KEY LARGO, Fla. -- Formal ceremonies and a weekend environmental expo ended an 11-day celebration of America's first underwater preserve.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo commemorated its 50th birthday with free admission Saturday to the park that encompasses some 63,845 acres covering uplands and submerged areas.
The day before, noted divers descended on an iconic underwater statue to mark the 50th anniversary of America's first underwater preserve.
Famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle joined Pat Wells, manager of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and Billy Causey, regional director for NOAA's national marine sanctuaries in placing a commemorative garland on the Christ of the Abyss statue, an icon for the park that was originally dedicated Dec. 10, 1960.
"It's the oldest underwater park ... not just in Florida ... not just in the United States, but it set a precedent for the world," Earle said. "This protected area where even the fish have a safe haven, is a gift to the world."
The park was named for the late John Pennekamp, an associate editor for the Miami Herald, whose writings were instrumental in helping to establish Everglades National Park.
Online at www.fla-keys.com/pennekamp50