Eco-tourism in Key West
From Key West, Take an Ecotour into the Sunset
Key West is the gateway to a vast ecotourism playground extending 70 miles westward to the uninhabited sand spits and coral formations of Dry Tortugas National Park. If you want to stay relatively close to the island, you can take a catamaran sailboat tour into the shallow waters and uninhabited keys that frame the island's famous sunsets. Locals call this area The Lakes, and once there, you can hop onto a kayak and paddle over patch coral formations or along mangrove fringes. You can even don a snorkel and mask and study the fish, grasses and soft corals. Some tours will take you all the way to Boca Grande Key, an uninhabited island favored by locals for its white sandy shoreline and beautiful coral patch reef. Other tour operators will take you in the opposite direction to the mangrove backcountry northeast of Key West.
If you prefer, you can sign up for a bird's eye view of the watery wilderness collectively known as West of Key West. Small seaplanes leave several times a day from Key West International Airport for historic Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fortress in the Dry Tortugas.
Your pilot will buzz along at an altitude of just 500 feet while watching for dolphins, sharks, spotted eagle rays, or tarpon. He'll even roll the plane to the side so you can see better. You'll cross the ring of islands called the Marquesas Keys, and then the Quicksands, a region of underwater sand dunes where treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his family discovered the riches of the Spanish galleon Atocha.
If flying is not your preference, you can visit the Dry Tortugas via high-speed ferry, charter boat or catamaran. The trip is longer but the crew knows how to show you a good time. Once at the fort, you can camp overnight on its small beach, or snorkel for just a little while among the nearby corals.
Spend time in the wilderness surrounding Key West, and you're bound to go home with a story to tell.