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The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and The Key West Wildlife Refuge

Created in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s purpose is to to protect the region’s fragile, unique ecosystem. Surrounding the islands of the Florida Keys, the Sanctuary covers 2,900 square nautical miles of waters. It stretches from south of Miami down to the Dry Tortugas and includes parts of the Atlantic Ocean, Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. As soon as you dip a toe into the waters of the Florida Keys, you are in the Sanctuary.

Residing within the Sanctuary’s borders is the Key West Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it is one of the nation's first areas designated specifically to protect native birds. In the early 1900s, large feathers were prized adornments in women’s hats leading to the slaughter of many beautiful birds like egrets and herons. Fortunately for all of us, these exquisite birds are now protected and thrive in the Refuge where you can admire them in their natural habitat.

Mangroves serve as a nursery and home for many of Florida Keys marine life. While there are numerous varieties of mangrove trees throughout the tropics, the most common in Key West are red mangrove, black mangrove and white mangrove trees. Their distinctive tangled roots above and below the water line provide shelter for many species of fish and wildlife while reducing shoreline erosion. Some mangrove islands hold precious sandy beaches and dunes that provide critical nesting habitat for endangered sea turtles. While paddling on the tours, glide along mangrove islands and pass through mangrove tunnels to see how marine life, birds and animals thrive in this unique environment.

Over 6,000 species of marine life and 250 species of birds can be found in the Sanctuary and the Refuge. Living coral, colorful sponge gardens, thick mangroves and lush seagrass beds are an essential part of Key West’s tropical paradise. Together, they create an extraordinary world beckoning you to visit and expand your senses.

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