JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF STATE PARK
The first underwater park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. While the mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks in the park?s upland areas offer visitors a unique experience, it is the coral reefs and their associated marine life that bring most visitors to the park. Many enjoy the view of the reef from a glass-bottom boat tour, but visitors can get a closer look by scuba diving or snorkeling. Canoeing and kayaking through the park?s waters are popular activities; fishing is permitted in designated areas. Visitors can enjoy walking on short trails, picnicking, or swimming at the beach. The Visitor Center has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and nature videos are shown in its theater. Full-facility and Youth/Group campsites are available. Beach wheelchairs are available without cost.
Florida?s state parks are committed to providing equal access to all facilities and programs. Should you need assistance to enable your participation, please contact the park directly.
Wildlife viewing is possible in all areas of the park, especially at the beaches, canoe trails, or nature trails.
Comprised of over 200 separate islands and islets, the Florida Keys have the only living coral reef formations to be found in the continental United States. Dr. Gilbert Voss 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. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of Miami, described the extent of damage which was occurring to the reef structure that he had noted during his studies in the Keys.
The tourist trade was taking its toll on the coral structures as souvenirs for visitors. Seashells, corals, sponges, sea horses, and marine life were being hammered, chiseled, and even dynamited to provide knickknacks to the tourists. The coral reefs that took thousands of years in the formation, were quickly being decimated by thoughtless vendors. Dr. Voss then suggested that no more profitable scientific project could be undertaken than the protection of this area. Without some restrictions on the exploitation of the reefs, commercial interests would easily extinct 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.
Pennekamp had played a major role in the establishment of Everglades National Park as legislative chairman of the State Commission appointed to bring it about; he was the first chairman of the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials; 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, and held 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 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. By the time the dedication ceremonies were held on December 10, 1960, Governor Leroy Collins made a slight change and named America?s first underwater park as John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Governor Collins named the park after John D. Pennekamp in appreciation of the continuous editorial support that had been given by Pennekamp in the Miami Herald.
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The highlight of the park?s Visitor Center is its 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. Park staff conducts a fish feeding daily at 11:00 a.m. for visitors to observe. There are also six additional 100 to 200-gallon aquariums which offer visitors different looks at the park?s marine inhabitants. The Visitor Center also features natural history exhibits which interpret the park?s different biological communities. There is also a theater located in the building where visitors may view nature videos relating to the park and its surrounding area.
Large-print formats of park information and brochures are available. Assisted-listening devices are available upon request for the auditorium presentations.
The food counter and snack bar has breakfast and lunch items prepared for purchase. There is a well-stocked gift shop with items from whimsical to tasteful for souvenirs. Snorkeling equipment and beach gear is also stocked, as well as last minute necessities one may have forgotten.
The park campground offers 47 campsites for both tent and RV campers with water and electric: 30 amp, 50 amp, and 110 volt. Each site also has a picnic table and grill. There is a dump station for sewer needs. The Main Restroom has toilets and hot showers that meet ADA requirements. The Pond Restroom, next to the Group Campsite, has an ADA-accessible private family bathroom. There are three paved sites with paths paved to the ramp to the Main Restroom located in the center of the campground. Coin-operated washers and dryers are also located at the Main Restroom. Pets are allowed (see Pet Camping below). Reservations are recommended three to eleven (winter season) months in advance. Campers must register at the park entrance.
The group camping area is available for organized groups of all ages, and requires at least one adult chaperone per ten youths. Chaperones must be at least 21 years of age. The group camping area will accommodate up to 24 people. The site has a fire circle, benches, a large grill and picnic tables. There is no electricity at the site. Restrooms and hot showers are available. Reservations for the group camp may be made by organized youth groups no earlier than 60 days in advance and by adult groups no earlier than 30 days in advance by calling the park at (305) 451-1202. A group representative must check in before 5:00 p.m. on the day of arrival. All park rules and regulations apply to this camping area.
Swimming is a popular activity at both Cannon Beach and Far Beach. The swimming areas are located in a tropical lagoon that provides a good place for younger swimmers to enjoy the water.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has two manmade beaches, each with its own distinct personality. Cannon Beach is the park?s primary snorkeling beach, where visitors will find the remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck approximately 100-feet offshore. Far Beach, with its palm trees, is a relaxing place to swim or just sit and enjoy the sun. Wheelchair accessibility to the water is enhanced by a Mobi-Mat installed across the sandy beach. Any swimming or snorkeling done outside the designated swimming areas is prohibited unless a Diver-Down flag is properly displayed.
Boaters should always use caution in shallow reef areas and when approaching any area where there are Diver-Down flags displayed, swimmers, or moored boats. Always obtain a navigation chart (NOAA #14F for Pennekamp waters) before departing for open water. Combustible engines are not permitted in or near shore areas of the park where the water is less than four feet deep. For those boaters that do not have a boat, the park concession maintains a boat rental where boats may be rented for four-hour and eight-hour intervals. Boat slips and moorings are available at the marina for overnight rental. Slips are located in the marina and include water and electric hookups with bathroom and shower facilities nearby. Mooring buoys are located in Largo Sound with dinghy dockage at the marina. Both slip and buoy rentals include full use of the park facilities, including trash disposal and pump-out. Reservations are recommended. For more information, please contact the Pennekamp Dock Master at (305) 451-6325 or on VHF channel 16.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has four different types of boat tours to ensure that all park visitors have the best opportunity possible to experience the park?s coral reef system. The glass-bottom and snorkeling trips depart from the park?s docks three times a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting. Both these tours last 2 ? hours and allow for 1 ? hours of reef time to view the park?s living coral and its associated marine life up close and personal. The Encounter, a wheelchair-friendly snorkeling vessel, features wheelchair tie-downs, as well as an oversized marine restroom for guests. Rental equipment is available. The park also has a PADI Five-Star Gold Palm dive shop, offering a full range of courses from Open Water through Instructor. The Resort Course offered introduces the fledgling diver to diving and the coral reef in one day. The four-hour scuba diving tours offer divers two-location, two-tank dives.
The park has a very good deepwater boat ramp, located at the marina. The ramp can handle most boats up to 36 feet in length.
The park has 2 ? miles of marked mangrove wilderness trails to explore. The mangroves and crystal clear waters that surround them provide habitat for a wide variety of birds and marine life. The park concession rents canoes and one- or two-person kayaks at the ticket counter. For personally-owned kayaks or canoes, there is a launch on the main road over the bridge.
Fishing is permitted in designated areas in accordance with Florida state law. Saltwater fishing licenses are required. Spearfishing, possession of spearfishing equipment, and collection of tropical fish [by any method] is prohibited inside the park.
In addition to the park's snorkeling tours, there are areas in the park designated for snorkeling. These areas are in a tropical lagoon and offer a look at the various sea grass communities in the park. In these areas there are some natural ledges that do hold some interesting marine life. There are also some artifacts from an early Spanish shipwreck approximately 100 feet offshore.
To fully enjoy the diving possibilities of the park, boat trips to the reef are recommended. A new diver, or a diver that needs a refresher, will find the waters off Cannon Beach a great place to hone his or her skills.