Monday, June 21, 2021

Tour an underwater national park by boat

People visit most national parks to see and enjoy the beauty of the land, whether majestic mountains, huge expanses of sand, or emerald forests dominate the landscape. But the most interesting parts of Biscayne National Park in Florida are underwater.

Sea life is the main attraction at Biscayne National Park.

On a March visit to Fort Lauderdale, Larry and I decided to take a day trip to this unusual park. Since it was early spring, we realized our visit would primarily involve exploration from a boat, as the bits of low-lying land included in the park seemed remote and insignificant. Indeed, after driving almost an hour and a half to get there, we felt eons away from civilization.

There’s beauty to be appreciated in the clear blue water, mangrove shoreline, and dark green woodlands that surround the 173,000 acres of designated park space. It’s a subtropical place where small islands (keys) harbor living coral reefs, a pristine wilderness along the southeast edge of the Florida peninsula.

Walk the pier at the Visitor Center for an introduction to open water. 

Home to one of the largest barrier reef ecosystems in the world, Biscayne National Park is more than 95 percent water. Established in 1968 to protect a rare combination of terrestrial and undersea life, the park also lends itself to recreation with great opportunities for snorkeling, boating, and fishing.

Sea birds are a common sight on
the jetty trail.
The day we visited happened to be quite cool and very windy. After arriving at the Visitor Center, we watched a film explaining how all the plant and animal life in Biscayne Bay, the Keys, and the mangroves are interwoven with each other and with humans.

Since our Heritage of Biscayne boat tour wasn’t scheduled until early afternoon, we walked along the jetty trail to get a sense of the landscape. The land is filled with a collection of trees, ferns, vines, flowers, and shrubs that thrive in the warm, wet climate.

On the boat tour we learned history of this ocean region.

We joined five other people on a wet and wild ride across the bay, with a couple of stops to explain some of the history of this region. We heard about Adams Key, the Sterling homestead, and brothers Arthur and Lancelot Jones, who learned that being a fishing guide was more profitable than farming. Many legends abound of pirates, buried treasure, shipwrecks, and treacherous reefs.

The longest stop on our three and a half hour boat ride was at Boca Chita, a former party island for wealthy visitors. In fact, a fake lighthouse was built on the island to help direct partiers to the right spot. Today, luxury boats can dock for a nightly fee, or people can go this peaceful place to camp and picnic.

Boca Chita is still a favorite day trip or overnight camping spot.

At the center of Biscayne’s underwater world are the coral reefs that built the Florida Keys. The 150-miles-long chain of coral reefs has created a tropical paradise. If you have time to explore onshore, you can see fossil coral rock on the islands of Biscayne. By having national park status, the crystal waters are now protected from pollutants and construction runoff that threatened the land in the early 1900s.

Palm trees swaying in the breeze remind you of a tropical paradise.

Popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, the shallow water reefs are filled with light and life. Brilliantly colored tropical fish and other sea creatures attract people fascinated by the multitude of sea inhabitants. 

It’s a different kind of national park, an undersea world that we would like to explore another time. Maybe someday we’ll get back for a summer visit and the opportunity to be dazzled by the wild spectrum of colorful sea life in Biscayne National Park.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier



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