JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF STATE PARK
The first underwater park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. While the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks in the park¿s upland areas offer visitors a unique experience, it is the coral reefs and their associated marine life that bring most visitors to the park. Many enjoy the view of the reef from a glass-bottom boat tour, but visitors can get a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling. Canoeing and kayaking through the park¿s waters are popular activities; fishing is permitted in designated areas. Visitors can enjoy walking on short trails, picnicking, or swimming at the beach. The Visitor Center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and nature videos are shown in its theater. Full-facility and Youth/Group campsites are available. Beach wheelchairs are available without cost.
Florida¿s state parks are committed to providing equal access to all facilities and programs. Should you need assistance to enable your participation, please contact the park directly.
Wildlife viewing is possible in all areas of the park, especially at the beaches, canoe trails, or nature trails.
Comprised of over 200 separate islands and islets, the Florida Keys have the only living coral reef formations to be found in the continental United States. Dr. Gilbert Voss first became aware of the extent of damage occurring to the reef structure during his studies of the marine species in the Keys.
In 1957 a biological conference concerned with the preservation of the natural resources of South Florida was held in Everglades National Park. At this meeting, Dr. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of Miami, described the extent of damage which was occurring to the reef structure that he had noted during his studies in the Keys.
The tourist trade was taking its toll on the coral structures as souvenirs for visitors. Seashells, corals, sponges, sea horses, and marine life were being hammered, chiseled, and even dynamited to provide knickknacks to the tourists. The coral reefs that took thousands of years in the formation, were quickly being decimated by thoughtless vendors. Dr. Voss then suggested that no more profitable scientific project could be undertaken than the protection of this area. Without some restrictions on the exploitation of the reefs, commercial interests would easily extinct the only hard coral reef formation in North America.
Dr. Voss successfully recruited conservationists to support his contentions that the reef should be protected, but his most powerful ally would eventually become an assistant editor for the Miami Herald, John D. Pennekamp.
Pennekamp had played a major role in the establishment of Everglades National Park as legislative chairman of the State Commission appointed to bring it about; he was the first chairman of the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials; he was a member of a civilian team of consultants which surveyed the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Department of the Interior in 1954, and held numerous state, local, and national conservation awards.
When the two men joined forces they were able to utilize the research of Dr. Voss and the journalistic effort of John Pennekamp to organize a coalition of conservationists that would undertake the project of protecting the valuable marine resources. The road ahead was not an easy one, but the efforts of Dr. Voss and Mr. Pennekamp were sufficient enough to get the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials to designate a 75 square mile section of offshore Florida as a permanent preserve. For three years the advocates of the preserve struggled to win approval for the park, and successfully resisted all opposition from commercial interests that wished to leave the reefs open for pillage.
In the spring of 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the area as Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve. By the time the dedication ceremonies were held on December 10, 1960, Governor Leroy Collins made a slight change and named America¿s first underwater park as John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Governor Collins named the park after John D. Pennekamp in appreciation of the continuous editorial support that had been given by Pennekamp in the Miami Herald.