Sea Grass Bed
Sea Grass Beds

Photograph by Paige Gill/Florida Keys NMS


The water surrounding the archipelago formed by the Florida Keys

Protected Area
3,674 square miles (9,516 square kilometers)

Date Designated
November 1990

Coral reefs
Patch and bank reefs
Mangrove-fringed shorelines and islands
Sand flats
Sea grass meadows

Key Species
Loggerhead sea turtle
Stone crab
Brain and star coral
Sea fan
Turtle grass
Spiny lobster

Cultural Resources
Historic shipwrecks
Historic lighthouses

The United States’ outpost in the Caribbean, the Florida Keys archipelago, sits amid the world’s third largest coral barrier reef. The national marine sanctuary that protects this habitat sweeps in a 220-mile- (354-kilometer-) long arc of ocean from the southern tip of Key Biscayne, southwest across the Keys, to roughly 80 miles (129 kilometers) west of Key West. The mangrove-fringed waters of the sanctuary harbor over 6,000 plant and animal species and lure millions of tourists every year.

Below the waves neon-blue-and-yellow queen angelfish and vividly striped butterfly fish scoot around huge sponges, sculpted coral heads, and swaying forests of sea fans. Divers who visit this underwater oasis may see a spotted eagle ray swoop past or lavender moon jellies float by.

In much of the sanctuary, patches of reef alternate with sea grass meadows that offer convenient places for juvenile spiny lobsters and other vulnerable young crustaceans and fish to hide from hungry predators. The thousands of verdant mangrove islands that dot the sanctuary waters play a similar protective role, sheltering the rookeries of great white herons and other endangered and threatened birds.

For more information,
check out NOAA’s Florida Keys profile:

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
PO Box 500368
Marathon, FL 33050

Tel: +1 305 743 2437
Fax: +1 305 743 2357
Sanctuary Web site:


© 2000 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.