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Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Associated Aquatic Preserves Highlights

Few marine environments in the U.S. compare to the Florida Keys in terms of natural beauty and natural resources. The most extensive living coral reef in the United States is adjacent to the 126 mile island chain located at the southern tip of the Florida Peninsula. To protect this diverse marine ecosystem while still supporting sustainable uses, Congress passed the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act. The act designated the waters surrounding the Florida Keys as a National Marine Sanctuary in 1990 and contained several protective measures such as the prohibitions on anchoring, removing or damaging corals. The nearly 2,900 square nautical mile Florida sanctuary surrounds the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys and contains both state and federal waters. Two aquatic preserves created by the State of Florida are managed as a part of the sanctuary: Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve and Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve. Visitors to the sanctuary should consult the sanctuary's website to learn more about this unique ecosystem and the protective measures in place within sanctuary boundaries.

The coral reefs of the Florida Keys are intimately linked to a marine ecosystem that supports one of the most unique and diverse assemblages of plants and animals in North America. The sanctuary not only includes the nation's only living coral reef adjacent to the continent, but one of the world's largest seagrass communities and numerous mangrove islands and shoreline. Cultural resources are also protected in sanctuary waters. The proximity of coral reefs to centuries old shipping routes has resulted in a high concentration of shipwrecks and an abundance of other maritime artifacts.

This complex marine ecosystem also supports tourism and commercial fishing, the economic foundation of the Florida Keys. In the last 20 years the tourism industry has grown to over four million domestic and foreign visitors who drive, fly or cruise each year to the most accessible tropical paradise in the Caribbean Basin. The Keys support 78,000 full-time residents. Tourists and semi-permanent residents increase this population by 75% during "season" (November to April). This ecosystem's extensive nursery, feeding and breeding grounds also support a multi-million dollar commercial fishing industry that lands nearly 20 million pounds of seafood and marine products annually.

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About the National Marine Sanctuary Program
National Marine Sanctuaries

In 1972, in response to a growing awareness of the intrinsic environmental and cultural value of our coastal waters, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. The Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate discrete areas as national marine sanctuaries to promote comprehensive management of their special conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, research, educational, or aesthetic resources.

The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of 14 marine protected areas that encompass more than 150,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The system includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.

Our national marine sanctuaries embrace part of our collective riches as a nation and can provide a safe habitat for species close to extinction or protect historically significant shipwrecks. Ranging in size from less than one square mile to 137,792 square miles, each sanctuary site is a unique place needing special protections.

Last updated: October 16, 2012

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