The first underwater park in the United States celebrates its 50th birthday this weekend. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, located in Key Largo about 60 miles south of Miami, includes nature trails, exhibits, guided canoe and kayak tours though a mangrove swamp, and a visitors center that includes a revamped saltwater aquarium display. Visitors of the park can celebrate with free admission and an expo featuring a presentation by renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle.
With all the cool nature exhibits and features, the park’s biggest draw is the continental US’s only barrier reef. Visitors can access the reef with scuba or snorkeling equipment or glass bottom boat tours. The man made centerpiece of the reef itself is a bronze, coral encrusted “Christ of the Abyss” statue located four miles from shore and 25 feel below the surface.
With over 700,000 visitors each year, the park has inspired conservation and awareness mastering artificial reefs, the use of mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage, repopulating corals and many other initiatives to enhance the reef environment. The park itself also served as a set for the popular TV show Flipper.
[via USA Today]