Know Before You Go
The playground is temporarily closed for repairs. Please enjoy the beaches, nature walks and other park amenities while the work is under way.
Nature Trail Closure
The Mangrove Nature Trail is closed while repairs are being made to the boardwalk, but you can enjoy a view on the new bridge. We thank you for your patience while we work to improve your park experience.
With more than 200 separate islands and islets, the Florida Keys have the only living coral reef formations found in the continental United States. Dr. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of the University of Miami first became aware of the extent of damage occurring to the reef structure during his studies of the marine species in the Keys.
In 1957, a biological conference concerned with the preservation of the natural resources of South Florida was held in Everglades National Park. At this meeting, Dr. Voss described the extent of damage that was occurring to the reef structure that he had noted during his studies.
The tourist trade was taking its toll on the coral structures as souvenirs were collected by visitors. Seashells, corals, sponges, sea horses and marine life were being hammered, chiseled and even dynamited to provide tourist knickknacks. The coral reefs that took thousands of years to form were quickly decimated by vendors. Dr. Voss then suggested that a nonprofit scientific project could be undertaken to protect the area.
Without some restrictions on the exploitation of the reefs, commercial interests would easily bring about the extinction of the only hard coral reef formation in North America. Dr. Voss successfully recruited conservationists to support his contentions that the reef should be protected, but his most powerful ally would eventually become an assistant editor for the Miami Herald, John D. Pennekamp.
As legislative chairman of a state commission, Pennekamp had played a major role in the establishment of Everglades National Park. He was the first chairman of the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials and he was a member of a civilian team of consultants, which surveyed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Department of the Interior in 1954. He also had received numerous state, local and national conservation awards.
When the two men joined forces they were able to utilize the research of Dr. Voss and the journalistic effort of John Pennekamp to organize a coalition of conservationists that would undertake the project of protecting the valuable marine resources. The road ahead was not an easy one, but the efforts of Dr. Voss and Mr. Pennekamp were sufficient enough to get the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials to designate a 75-square-mile section of offshore Florida as a permanent preserve. For three years the advocates of the preserve struggled to win approval for the park and successfully resisted all opposition from the commercial interests that wished to leave the reefs open for pillage.
In the spring of 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the area as Key Largo Coral Reef Preserve. When the dedication ceremonies were held on Dec.10, 1960, Florida Governor Leroy Collins made a surprise announcement, naming the United States' first undersea park as John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Governor Collins named the park after Pennekamp in appreciation of the continuous editorial support that he had given in the Miami Herald.
Learn more about Florida’s Coral Reef