With a string of eco-friendly properties popping up from Key West to Key Largo, new mangrove and coral restoration voluntourism projects, and restaurants everywhere turning away from single-use plastics (SUPs), the Florida Keys and Key West are focusing on preserving the natural beauty of the 125-mile long island chain.
"This year, we're putting a big emphasis on sustainability," explained Ashley Serrate, media relations manager, Florida Keys & Key West. "Rather than leave behind a footprint, we'd rather you just leave a fingerprint."
Two of the biggest threats to the Florida Keys and Key West, Serrate said, are the pollution and destruction of the mangroves, which are the Keys' lifeblood, as well as the bleaching of the coral reefs, most commonly attributed to contact with sunscreen which contains harmful chemicals.
"Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two chemicals found in popular sunscreens which contribute to coral bleaching," Serrate explained. "We're encouraging travellers to be more mindful and educate themselves on the products they're using before entering the ecosystems.
Taking a sustainable stand
The Florida Keys are home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and it's why the tourism board and local government has enacted several new policies that travellers should note.
Two of them, Serrate says, stem from the restaurant scene.
"Tons of restaurants in the Keys are ditching plastic straws completely, or they're making them available upon request only," Serrate said. "Others are simply charging $1 for a reusable metal straw that's yours to keep."
Another interesting way the Florida Keys are fighting for conservation is actually through eating more seafood! It might sound contradictory, but according to Serrate, the Florida Keys have had a lionfish problem since the early 1980s, and as a result, it's hurting the natural order of things.
"Lionfish are an invasive species native to the Indo-Pacific region, and although they're damaging, they're really delicious!" Serrate said. "There are plenty of places in the Keys where you can have amazing lionfish sushi, or lionfish tacos."
Other ways that the Florida Keys are encouraging more sustainable visits include:
- Taking part in marine restoration or coral restoration voluntourism projects.
- Opt to stay in a hotel committed to using sustainable incentives, like the Grassy Flats Resort & Beach Club in Marathon, which has completely banned SUPs and also runs on solar power.
- Try to choose from tour operators who are Blue Star certified; this means the operator has been recognized for promoting responsible and sustainable diving, snorkeling, and fishing practices.
As far as major updates for The Keys go, the famous Seven Mile Bridge is aiming to become walkable once more by 2021, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy a scenic trek across.
Travellers looking to get involved with any of the voluntourism projects in the Florida Keys can visit https://fla-keys.com/voluntourism/.
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