FL - The Florida Keys: Dive into History
NOAA Ocean Podcast: Episode 68 In this episode, we're heading to the Florida Keys, the only place in the continental United States with shallow water coral reefs. But these corals are not the only thing that make the Keys special.
We're joined by Brenda Altmeier, maritime heritage coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to tell us the story of the Florida Keys through maritime history to give you just a taste of why this place is unlike anywhere else in the nation.
HOST: This is the NOAA Ocean Podcast, I’m Troy Kitch. In this episode, we’re heading to the Florida Keys, the only place in the continental United States with shallow water coral reefs. But these corals are not the only thing that make the Keys special. We’re joined by Brenda Altmeier, maritime heritage coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, to tell us the story of the Florida Keys through maritime history. It's a story stretching back to the 1500s with trade routes, lighthouses, beacons, shipwrecks, and reefs. And this will give you just a taste of why this place is unlike anywhere else in the nation. Brenda, thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a bit about what you do at NOAA?
BRENDA ALTMEIER: I’m the maritime heritage coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which involves field work associated with documenting, recording, and monitoring historical resources. But we also create and produce educational messages and products about the historical resources and preservation of those resources. It's the look but don't touch: why historical resources are important. They give us the information about our past and the things that shaped our history.
HOST: How long have been with the sanctuary?
Brenda Altmeier, maritime heritage coordinator, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
BRENDA ALTMEIER: I started with the sanctuary in 1993 and I was actually in the education team at that time. Throughout the past 30 years, I've been fortunate to have worked in all aspects of this program, including to help set boundary buoys for our sanctuary preservation areas, repairing coral reefs, installing moorings buoys, updating management plans and programmatic agreements, as well as permitting and documenting shipwrecks. And we do trainings about heritage awareness.
HOST: For those who know nothing about this part of Florida, can you describe it a bit?
BRENDA ALTMEIER: The Florida Keys are a chain of 1,700 islands that extend nearly 200 miles from the mainland Florida. The furthest island is in the Dry Tortugas. These islands are surrounded by teal to deep blue water that's relatively shallow with a mean water depth of about 20 feet. It goes all the way to the deeper reefs that reach about 60 feet before it starts to drop off. So we're almost on a plateau. There are two distinct sides to the islands. We have what we call the ocean side, which is the Atlantic, and then the Gulf of Mexico. And the upper Key, most people refer to it as the Bay side since it's more of a, an inlet bay, doesn't quite open up into the Gulf of Mexico proper.
HOST: And what about the NOAA sanctuary?
BRENDA ALTMEIER: The sanctuary's jurisdiction surrounds nearly the entire island chain — that's 3,800 miles. From that mean high water at the shoreline to 300 feet on the Atlantic side where the water falls off to 300 feet. And then nine miles into the Gulf of Mexico. And we border three national parks, Biscayne National Park in our north, Everglades National Park to our west, and Dry Tortugas National Park at the very tip. And one state park that was established in 1960, which is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. So the sanctuary program down here with the larger Florida Keys was established in 1990 to protect the area from unregulated activities and uses and [to] control damage to the marine environment. Our program required an area to be avoided that surrounded the entire Florida Keys. And what this did was it kept off the large vessels that were trying to use the Gulf Stream, which is like this under underwater river that flows north. And they sometimes come in with the undulation of the Gulf Stream closer to the reef than they should. And we’ve had some major ship groundings that have taken out parking lot sizes of coral reefs in just moments. We also protect coral and historical resources. At one time back in the '50s and '60s, people were chiseling out coral, dynamiting out coral, to sell in tourist shops because it was kind of almost a fad, you know, it was such a unique thing, because it's the only state in the United States where we have shallow water coral reefs. So it was a very big draw for tourists. So that type of activity wasn't regulated. And so the sanctuary helped to put a stop to some of those unregulated activities when we came along. And, of course, that’s why John Pennekamp was established also: to protect that coral reef out to three nautical miles where the state jurisdiction ends.