The Florida Keys & Key West

Join a Volunteer Effort in the Florida Keys

Voluntourism is all about connecting. It’s about connecting with the earth and the ocean. It’s about connecting with people and all living things. It’s about connecting with the natural beauty of The Florida Keys and its unique eco-systems. It’s about connections between cultures and social classes. It’s about giving something back and making the world a better place.

You can be a visitor to The Florida Keys and dedicate a part of your vacation or you can “be local” and get involved on an ongoing basis.

Causes range from reef restoration and beach clean-ups to helping kids or spending time working in a wildlife refuge. Whether you have special skills or interests, or just want to help out, you can connect with the causes and charities that are dedicated to protecting and improving the quality of both human and animal life in The Florida Keys.

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center welcomes volunteers to help at the hospital and/or the 5-acre sanctuary with habitat construction, care and feeding of wild bird patients, or rehabilitated residents. Volunteer info

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is recruiting and training volunteers for their Team OCEAN program, to serve as boat operators or educational interpreters at busy reef areas on weekends and peak days during the summer months. Volunteer info

Marathon Wild Bird Center

Marathon Wild Bird Center always welcomes volunteers to assist with the capture and transport of injured wildlife as well as assisting with the release of successfully rehabilitated birds, in addition to fundraising events, picking up supplies, feeding birds, and more. Volunteer info

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

The Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden has a variety of ways that volunteers can help, including assistance with presenting classes, greeting visitors, gardening, giving tours, and special events. Volunteer info

Key West Wildlife Center

Key West Wildlife Center’s mission is to ensure the future of the Keys’ diverse native wildlife by providing timely rescues and quality rehabilitation with the hope of release back to the wild. Volunteer info

Pigeon Key

Pigeon Key is dedicated to preserving the cultural history of the Florida Keys by promoting its healthy future through education, history and research. Volunteer info

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys

Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Florida Keys believes volunteers are a valuable resource! Work alongside staff, partner homeowners and other volunteers, to help transform lives. This transformation and energy sustains our passion. Volunteer info

Divers Can Cultivate Corals, Capture & Count Fish to Help Restore Reefs

Click to enlarge Dr. Jane Lubchenco, left, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, watches Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation hang a young farm-raised coral in a coral nursery off Key Largo. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau

Divers interested in aiding in reef restoration and participating in coral restoration and propagation can join marine scientists with Key Largo's nonprofit Coral Restoration Foundation in an ongoing mission to preserve the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.

Participants learn about environmental impacts on Florida's reefs through educational lectures and hands-on dives to restore endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals, two of the reef-building species that have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats within a year or two.

Click to enlarge A diver observes biologist Caitlin Lustic measure a young farm-raised coral in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau

Leading the educational dive trips is Ken Nedimyer. President of the Coral Restoration Foundation that was established in 2000, Nedimyer started the volunteer arm of the program in 2007. He formerly collected tropical fish and owned a live rock aquaculture farm, but recognized the need to become a coral cultivator.

Staghorn coral Staghorn coral is one of the predominant reef-building species to have the best chance to propagate and create new habitats.

Nedimyer's and the foundation's goal is to re-establish sexually mature coral colonies that can successfully reproduce and repopulate the reefs. The educational sessions focus on coral health, corals' function in marine ecosystems, identification of natural and manmade threats to coral, and ways to protect the resource in the Florida Keys.

Volunteers go on working dives to the coral nursery to clean and prepare corals for planting, and an orientation dive at one of the restoration sites to see firsthand the evolution of corals over time.

Gametes Coral species utilize a reef-building and reproductive strategy by releasing millions of gametes once a year in synchronized mass-spawning rituals. Photo by Bob Care/Florida Keys News Bureau

At the nursery, corals are started from a clipping about the length of a knuckle and grow to 30 or 40 centimeters. After a year on the reef, the corals grow several inches tall with multiple branches. In five years, they are strong, independent structures serving as habitat for a variety of tropical fish.

In August 2009, cultured corals were discovered spawning after only two years — the first time the phenomenon had been observed in the wild.

Lad Akins Marine scientist Lad Akins demonstrates how to clean the disk around the coral in the nursery before the disk with the coral attached is removed to be transplanted on a reef in the wild.

For many, what starts as an interest evolves into a dedicated mission, according to Nedimyer. Visitors often return for repeat volunteer opportunities.

"This is something the average person can get their hands on and do," Nedimyer said. "We have a lot of people who have volunteered, and they 'own' this project. They can take (the experience) back to their home communities — it is a grass-roots way of giving people ownership."

To learn more about volunteering with the Coral Restoration Foundation, visit

Get Actively Involved! Join a Coral Restoration Dive Workshop

Become a citizen scientist and join a coral restoration program.

Learn the importance of coral health, corals' function in marine ecosystems and help protect this resource in the Florida Keys in a hands-on way.

Participants go on a working dive at the coral nursery, an orientation dive at some of the restoration projects that have been completed and two dives to plant corals on the new restoration site.

Coral Restoration Dive Workshop Includes:
Two morning classroom sessions
Two 2-tank afternoon dive trips with Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort
Volunteer program fees for Coral Restoration Foundation
Tanks, weights, sales tax

Three-Night Accommodations
Packages also available

For more information and workshop costs, contact:
Amy Slate's Amoray Dive Resort
(305) 451-3595 or 800-4-AMORAY

Net Cash and Prizes for Bagging Lionfish


Divers planning trips to enjoy the Florida Keys' living coral barrier reef also can help protect it and give back to the environment by capturing and removing non-native lionfish from Keys waters while vacationing.

A partnership forged between the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and the dive community has created hands-on, focused opportunities for Keys visitors who enjoy the island chain's natural resources to take action and remove lionfish. The popular aquarium fish is believed to have been introduced to Florida waters during the 1980s.


REEF runs workshops educating divers about safe collection and removal techniques, and sponsors lionfish derbies and monthly contests open to individuals and businesses that award prizes to those that catch the most lionfish. Divers can learn how to collect, clean and fillet this delicious fish whose delicate white meat is likened to snapper, grouper and hogfish. Although lionfish are equipped with venomous spines that are removed before cooking, the flesh has no poison.

There is no season for capturing lionfish. They can be caught anytime, anywhere and at any size, with the exception of no-take zones within Special Protected Areas (SPAs) of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Lionfish hunters in any SPA area do need a permit to collect lionfish, and these can be obtained from REEF during any of their workshops.

For more information and how to get involved, visit

Participation Sought for Annual Fish Count Surveys

Reef Environmental Education Foundation

Reef Environmental Education Foundation has a mission to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats.

Divers and snorkelers can assist in identifying and documenting fish diversity and population trends.


Each July is the Great Annual Fish Count, an international eco-event where volunteer divers and snorkelers gather data used by marine researchers, resource managers and policy makers to help assess reefs' condition and their ability to sustain fish and marine life. Interested divers and snorkelers can organize their own fish count dives individually or through a dive club, or join local dive shops for special fish-identification dive and snorkel excursions.

REEF encourages divers to conduct fish count surveys year-round and, with newly learned fish ID skills, collect data that is aggregated with counts from around the world, adding to the more than 160,000 surveys already submitted for research. Survey results can be reported and viewed online.

Underwater notes

Reef fish population data has been used by local and national agencies to develop management plans for coral reef resources in the islands of the Florida Keys, Caribbean, Hawaii and North Pacific.

Introductory fish ID seminars offer divers the opportunity to learn the 50 most common fish in the waters of the Florida Keys. This seminar includes an interactive presentation, free membership to REEF, and an opportunity to participate in a guided field survey dive.

For free scan forms and information about marine survey materials, visit