Going Green in the Florida Keys

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Wide-open stretches of water and sky make for a lot of blue in the Florida Keys, but look a little closer and you'll discover that these tiny islands are greener than you ever imagined.

The Keys have always been a little more laissez-faire than the rest of the state and a favorite getaway for Floridians. But even though the Keys still embrace a "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" attitude, folks around here are starting to take at least one thing a lot more seriously: the environment.

New green initiatives by Keys businesses encourage enjoyment of the environment without spoiling it, so that "treading lightly" – along with toasting the sunset, feeding giant tarpon and the Duval Crawl – becomes just another Keys tradition.


Ocean-Conscious Fun

Of course, you can tread lightly while living daringly – just ask Paul Menta, a pioneer in the eco-friendly extreme sport of kiteboarding and owner of  The Kitehouse, a training center in Key West. Instruction with Menta and co-owner Nick Obea is one-on-one, so in no time you'll be jumping waves like a pro.

Friend of "green" but foe of gravity? Stay centered while kayaking, which allows you to (calmly) paddle the unspoiled Lower Keys backcountry. Join Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours on a Sunset and Starlight Tour, where you'll don special headlamps to reveal the secret life of nocturnal sea creatures.

Life also looks a lot different through a mask; be one of the first to see the marine life making its home in the 523-foot Vandenberg, which was sunk off the coast of Key West in June 2009. In the meantime, Danger Charters will take you to remote parts of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, where there's always something new to discover.

Even fishing has gone green, with many Keys charter captains now advocating "limiting your kill instead of killing your limit." Backcountry game fish such as tarpon and bonefish have been live-release for years, but captains now also promote keeping smaller amounts of "food" fish and releasing the rest.

Check out other sea creatures such as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, sea lions and manatees at places such as the Dolphin Connection on Duck Key, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Islamorada's Theater of the Sea and the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon (home to Tursi, daughter of famed movie star Flipper).


A Love of the Land

How do you reduce your carbon footprint, save on gas and see the best of Key West all at once? Just follow Lloyd Mager of Lloyd's Tropical Bike Tour. He's been leading bike tours through Key West's out-of-the-way places for more than 20 years, showing folks the island's historic architecture, pocket parks and hidden gardens through his hands-on field trips. Stop to smell the frangipani and taste seasonal fruit such as sapodilla and mango along the way.

Another place off the beaten path is Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden, a mini rainforest in the middle of Old Town abloom with rare and endangered plants including orchids, palms and spice trees. A family of colorful macaws makes its home here as well.

The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating injured birds. A boardwalk allows you to see resident cormorants, owls, falcons, hawks, cattle egrets, laughing gulls, pelicans and other feathered friends up close. (Visit in the afternoon to catch the daily resident-rehabilitated bird feeding.)


Keys Art: A Green Canvas


The marine life, architecture, flora and fauna of the Florida Keys have been the subject of artistic inspiration for decades, and contemporary artists continue to portray this tropical paradise through a variety of mediums.

Internationally renowned marine life artist Wyland has painted five larger-than-life colorful murals throughout the Keys. Upper Keys photographer Clyde Butcher has captured the environment in emotionally charged black and white photographs. See the work of other Upper Keys artists at Stacie Krupa Gallery and Redbone Gallery in Islamorada.


Earth-Friendly Digs

Now that you know how to play green, you can also stay green at environmentally friendly resorts. Organic fare is on the menu at Deer Run Bed & Breakfast on Big Pine Key, while the 222-room Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel in Key West is extra energy efficient. At the Hilton Key Largo Resort, it's "waste not, want not" through the resort's recycling programs. These accommodations offer all the amenities, none of the guilt.

For more information on planning your green in-state getaway to the Florida Keys and Key West, call 800-FLA-KEYS or visit www.fla-keys.com.


Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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