The beauty and diversity of the Florida Keys' living coral reef is to be celebrated during the annual Reef Awareness Week, set for Sunday through Saturday, July 25-31.
Spearheaded by Reef Relief, a nonprofit grass-roots membership organization, Reef Awareness Week focuses on the richness of North America's only living coral barrier reef and the need to preserve and protect it and all coral reef ecosystems.
Geared for both children and adults, activities emphasize environmental education and responsibility through enjoyable learning experiences. Reef Awareness Week also is to feature daily reef and conservation tips via Florida Keys newspapers and radio stations, as well as at www.reefrelief.org for ocean lovers outside the Keys.
Reef Relief was organized in 1986 to install mooring buoys to eliminate anchor damage at frequently visited coral reefs near Key West. Among many other projects, the organization has since spearheaded a campaign to improve water quality in the Keys, been a major supporter of the creation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, established a Lower Keys coral nursery and worked to create the Key West Marine Park along the island's Atlantic Ocean shore, which features no-motor "swim-only" lanes for swimmers, divers and snorkelers.
Reef Awareness Week highlights are to include a tour of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge aboard Danger Charters' 40-foot classic motor yacht Roamer. Scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 27, the excursion combines sailing, snorkeling and kayaking. Cost is $60 per person, which includes snacks, soft drinks, beer and wine, and gear, with proceeds benefiting Reef Relief. For reservations, call 305-296-3272.
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Reef Relief founder Craig Quirolo is to present his annual "State of the Reef Address" at the organization's annual membership meeting at the Wyndham Reach Resort, 1436 Simonton St. The meeting is free to Reef Relief members, and nonmembers can join at the door. Membership fees start at $30 per year.
Wednesday and Thursday, July 28 and 29, the focus is on family fun. Families are invited to visit Reef Relief's educational facility, Reef World, 201 William St. in Key West, at 10 a.m. to learn about coral reefs. At 11:30 a.m., they are to depart on a two-hour excursion to the reef aboard the Discovery Glass-bottom Boat.
Cost for this learning experience and excursion is $32.25 per adult and $17.20 per child ages 7-11. Children 6 years old and under are admitted free of charge. For reservations, call 305-293-0099.
Other awareness-raising events are to include a No Discharge Zone Workshop for boaters, marina owners and the general public. Topics are to include holding tank installations and grants for installing pumpout facilities. The workshop is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, July 26, at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway in Marathon.
In addition, a Reef Awareness Week film and reception are to be held at the Key West Film Society's Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., and Florida Keys television Channel 19 is to host two reef awareness film presentations.
Throughout the week, ocean aficionados are invited to visit Reef World between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to view exhibits and enjoy activities related to coral reefs, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles. Reef Awareness Week participants also can enjoy the Reefs, Wrecks & Rascals exhibition at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St., from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Reef Awareness Week's finale is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 31. The "Jewel of the Sea Reef Ball" features a cocktail hour with hors d'oeuvres, followed by gourmet oceanfront dining, a silent auction and dancing in the sand to a live Caribbean-style band.
The fund-raising gala is to take place at the Sands Seafood Bar and Grill, 1420 Simonton St. overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Cost is $80 per person, with tables seating 10 available for $750, by reservation only. Call 305-294-3100 for reservations.
For more information about Reef Awareness Week or to learn about Reef Relief's efforts to preserve the coral reef ecosystem, contact Reef Relief at 305-294-3100, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.reefrelief.org. For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY, or visit the Keys Web site at www.fla-keys.com.