Established by Congress in 1972, the National Marine Sanctuary Program is designed to protect nationally significant marine areas for their ecological and historical value. Thirteen such sanctuaries have been established around the nation. Three of these, along with Biscayne Bay National Park and John Pennekamp State Park, protect the vast tropical coral reef ecosystem off Florida's coast.
The Key Largo Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1975 to protect more than 100 square nautical miles of submerged coral reefs off the northernmost Florida Keys. The boundaries enclose five major fore reefs and seven major patch reef communities. For more information: Upper Keys Regional Office, PO Box 1083, Key Largo, FL 33037. Phone (305) 852-7717.
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1981 to protect 5.32 square nautical miles located off the coast of Big Pine Key. It protects one of the best examples of a spur-and-groove reef system. For more information: Lower Keys Regional Office, 216 Ann Street, Key West, FL 33040. Phone (305) 292-0311.
Designated in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is charged with providing comprehensive management for 2,800 square nautical miles of the marine environment surrounding the Florida Keys. It encompasses the third largest barrier reef in the world and is the second largest marine sanctuary in the United States. For more information: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Administrative Office, PO Box 500368, Marathon, FL 33050. Phone (305) 743-2437.