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Dive Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Dive or Snorkel Pennekamp Park with Sea Dwellers Dive Center
John Pennekamp was an associate editor of the Miami Herald who first came to Miami in 1925. He was involved with the early efforts to create the Everglades National Park. In 1946 as chairman of the Everglades National Park Commission he proposed that the Everglades park should stretch from the Tamiami trail to the west of Miami all the way to the east encompassing Key Largo and the barrier reefs. Needless to say this grandiose scheme was not favored by Monroe County, which would lose its tax base, or by the landowners, who would forfeit their property.

Despite the creation of the Everglades National Park in 1948 nothing was done to protect Key Largo’s reefs resulting in deterioriating reef conditions from barges routinely removing large quantities of Queen conch and coral. Action was finally taken In 1959 when Governor Leroy Collins gave the Coral Reef Preserve control of the ocean bottom from the shoreline to the three-mile limit of Florida’s state waters. This provided only limited protection to the marine environment since the reef line is some 6 miles offshore.

The next hurdle was getting President Eisenhower to transfer the federal land (that which is beyond the three-mile limit out to 300-foot depth) to the state. President Eisenhower accomplished this in March 1960 and in December of that year Gov Collins dedicated the “John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park”. At that point the park consisted of just 75 acres of water. Subsequently, largely through the efforts of John Pennekamp himself, Radford Crane and his family donated 74 acres of the south west side of Largo sound to act as a land base for the park and the underwater area was increased to approximately 90 sq. miles.

Jerry Wilkinson of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys, has more information on his web site.

The story of the National Marine Sanctuaries began in 1966 when Congress established the Marine Sciences Council. This Council led to recognition of the need to protect our near shore oceans and eventually to the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970 and the establishment of the National Marine Sanctuary Program in 1972. In 1975, the newly discovered USS Monitor, a civil war iron clad, was designated as the first National Marine Sanctuary. The Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary was the second following just 11 months later. 

Presently there are a total of 15 National Marine Sanctuaries encompassing more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The network includes a system of 15 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

Subsequent to the creation of the National Marine Sanctuary, responsibility for Key Largo’s reefs reverted to the Federal authorities and despite still retaining the name Coral Reef State Park, Pennekamp Park is no longer responsible for anything beyond the 3 mile limit of state waters.

Today, the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary is one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the world, with approximately 3 million visitors annually on land and THOUSANDS of divers and snorkelers inthe water. “Dive Capital of the World” isn't an exaggeration!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo Diving and Snorkeling    John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo Diving and Snorkeling    John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo Diving and Snorkeling