KEY LARGO (CBS4) – An 11-day celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the creation of America’s first underwater preserve, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, has begun in Key Largo.
The park named for Pennekamp, a former Miami Herald editor, was dedicated Dec. 10, 1960. Today it draws more than a million visitors annually to explore its nature trails and beaches and observe the abundant underwater wildlife that inhabits its 70 square nautical miles, that is also a facet of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Numerous events held inside Pennekamp Park, on the water and throughout the Key Largo community are designed to appeal to divers, snorkelers and outdoor enthusiasts. The 12-day celebration includes an underwater photo contest; protect the reef days featuring a Lionfish Roundup and a fish identification seminar and a “King and Queen of the Reef Gala.”
Friday, Dec. 10, an underwater re-dedication ceremony is planned at the park’s most famous offshore sites, the 9-foot-tall bronze “Christ of the Deep.” Resting in 20 feet of water, the iconic statue is a replica of the like-named statue in the Mediterranean Sea.
On Saturday, Dec. 11, Pennekamp Park, located at mile marker 102.5 on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, is to feature free admission. A 9 a.m. to 3 p.m Environmental Expo is to underscore the island-wide celebration with conservation-minded educational vendor booths and exhibits and guest speakers including renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Visitors can also enjoy the park’s popular water activities during the event — at normal concession costs — such as viewing the reef on glass-bottom boat tours, canoeing, kayaking or fishing.
A number of Key Largo area retail businesses, dive and snorkel operators, restaurants and lodging properties have special value-added offers and roll-back prices during the 50th anniversary celebration.