The Florida Keys are a group of small islands running along a 126-mile line south of the tip of Florida linked by 42 bridges. Key Largo, the longest island, is the first key off the coast of Florida and home to the planet's biggest artificial reef. Key West, the southernmost isle, is a colorful Caribbean-style place with a passion for parties and water sports. Surrounded by the only barrier reef in North America, it is the focus of stunning underwater photography. Other islands in the group include Islamorada, Marathon, and the Lower Keys (including Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key).
Different islands focus on different activities. For instance, Islamorada is known for sports fishing while Key Largo is famous for diving. Key West, on the other hand, is this island chain's artistic soul where great writers, painters and sculptors have long migrated for inspiration. On Marathon you can rent a houseboat and spend days exploring the coral reefs and tiny islands.
The Keys possess a natural beauty that is unmatched anywhere. Nearly six million people travel to the area each year for the coral and wildlife, accounting for a $2 billion a year economy boost. Unfortunately, with the massive influx of people comes destruction of the environment and the natural wonders therein. Snorkeling and fishing are great, but they have introduced algal infection within the coral reef due to careless handling of the polyps by underwater sightseers. To strike a balance between the health of the economy and the health of the marine ecosystems, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary was formed to protect and preserve the natural fauna and flora of a 220-mile area of marine environment.
There is so much to see and do in the Florida Keys from snorkeling and diving to golf, fishing, boating and camping. If done responsibly so as not to undermine the natural balance of the region, the joys that can be derived in this remarkably beautiful haven will be there not only for ourselves, but for our children as well.