25 June 2019
FLORIDA KEYS — As the Florida Keys ease into summer, a “Connect & Protect” initiative continues to encourage awareness of sustainable opportunities and memorable activities for visitors. Here are five points to boost your eco-awareness and inspire positive actions.
ONE: Will you take the #PlasticFreeJuly challenge this year? Help protect the oceans, reduce your eco footprint and avoid landfill waste. How? Commit to one week, or the whole month of July, and avoid (or ask for reusable alternatives to) single-use plastic packaging/bags and plastic or styrofoam takeaway items like bags, bottles, straws and coffee cups. 
We'll be sharing daily Florida Keys tips throughout July at facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest/. They’ll include info on where to join a beach or park cleanup, enjoying a plastic-free picnic at the beach, Florida Keys eco-hotels and tours, and where you can find cool reusable Keys cups and straw and plastic bag alternatives. Take the personal challenge! Visit plasticfreejuly.org/.
TWO: Boating in the Florida Keys can be complicated for first-time visitors or boaters new to navigating the islands’ surrounding shallow waters. The sustained health of the Florida Keys’ environment is vital. That’s because disturbance and direct impacts — including damage by boat propellers, groundings, turbidity and water quality — are major contributing factors to declines in habitat essential for birds, fish and other animals.
To better understand boating and watercraft impacts, a free online boater education course has been developed by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It provides information about responsible boating and stewardship and highlights relevant rules and regulations. Visit floridakeys.noaa.gov/onthewater/education.html.
THREE: On Big Pine Key, the new Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center is opening at 30587 Overseas Highway near mile marker 30.5. With more than 1,800 square feet of exhibition space, the visitor center showcases the Keys’ four national wildlife refuges: National Key Deer, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake.
The National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the diminutive Key deer and other Keys wildlife resources, celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017. Visit fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/.
FOUR: The Florida Reef Tract is the one of the largest barrier reef systems in the world and the only barrier reef in the continental United States. On June 8 during the fifth annual Coralpalooza, 250 Florida Keys participants returned a total of 1,760 corals to the Florida Reef Tract — more corals than have been outplanted during any previous Coralpalooza event.
On World Oceans Day in early June every year, Key Largo’s Coral Restoration Foundation takes out an army of ocean lovers to actively restore reefs in the Florida Keys and beyond.
There are many ways to get involved with the Coral Restoration Foundation, whether it’s joining a dive program, becoming a volunteer, making a donation or engaging in education programs. Sign up to receive CRF’s “First Alert” to register for the sixth annual Coralpalooza in 2020 at coralrestoration.org/coralpalooza.
FIVE: In a unique demonstration of eco-conscious generosity, longtime Key West resident David Wolkowsky — a well-known and impactful public figure, developer, philanthropist and visionary — donated his Ballast Key, a 14-acre island located in the clear blue and vibrant waters 8 miles west of Key West, shortly before his passing in September 2018 at age 99.
The parcel will forever be protected through the commitment of the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The island is home to many imperiled and endangered species of native plants and wildlife, and the shallow waters that surround the key teem with inhabitants of a healthy coral reef ecosystem including threatened and endangered sea turtles.
Florida Keys sustainable travel information: fla-keys.com/sustain/
Florida Keys visitor information: fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS
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