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This aerial photograph shows the park's Cannon Beach and Marina with the Visitor Center, Dive Shop, main concession and parking in 2007. A snorkeler passes over the reef. Snorkeling is a favorite activity at the park with boat tours available three times a day, year-round. Visitors enjoy the live examples of reef creatures in the visitor center¿s saltwater aquariums . (Photo by Rex Lavoie) The park's 47-site campground provides sites appropriate for tents and RV camping.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
The park entrance sign, painted by Keys artist Pasta Pantaleo, reflects the beauty of the coral reef that the park was created to protect.

History and Culture

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park in the United States, and encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. Located in the Florida Keys, the park's upland areas offer visitors a unique experience in the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks.

This aerial photo from 1969 shows the land base of the park.

1969 Aerial Photo

The park in 1969 was very different from the park 41 years later. The two water bodies in the lower portion of the photo - the pond and a creek that empties into the marina - are now much smaller. The dive shop did not exist next to the boat ramp and the visitor center had not yet been built.

This 1960s scuba diver is at the Christ of the Abyss statue at Key Largo Dry Rocks, a location no longer within the park's boundaries.

1960s Scuba Diver

A 1960s diver visits Christ of the Abyss in 15-20 feet of water at Key Largo Dry Rocks. The statue was the third casting from an original mold created by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti in 1954. The statue was lowered into place in 1965 and its location was within the park's boundaries. The park's water boundaries were corrected in 1975 and state waters today end at three-miles out. The statue is now within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Campsites like this one on Largo Sound meant convenient saltwater fishing for vacationing 1960s families.

1960s Campsite

In the early days of the park, some of the campsites were actually on Largo Sound. Although the campground covered more of the park than it currently does, the boat and diving concession offerings are larger today.

The first park sign shows the projected opening date for the land base.

First Park Sign

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park did not have a land base when it was first created in 1960, just the submerged land under the ocean. Land was later purchased, donated and developed, with the land base opening in 1963.

This page of the 1976 comic book, 'Dennis the Menace in Florida,' shows Dennis at America's first underwater park.

Dennis at Pennekamp

In 1976, Hank Ketchum, Dennis the Menace's creator, wrote a comic book called 'Dennis the Menace in Florida.' Dennis and his parents visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and take a ride on the glass bottom boat, Discovery.