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visitor center in Key West

National Marine Sanctuaries

NOAA opened the doors to the brand-new, 6,400-square-foot Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center on Jan. 13, treating visitors to an exciting array of interactive exhibits highlighting the rich natural environment of the Keys. Opening day saw nearly 300 people pass through the center, which offers free admission and a fun, educational experience for visitors of all ages.

visitor center in Key WestLocated in NOAA’s Dr. Nancy Foster Florida Keys Environmental Complex on the Truman Annex waterfront in Key West, the center features numerous exhibits that interpret the resources and management efforts of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, two national parks, and four national wildlife refuges. Highlights include a simulation of the Aquarius underwater research habitat, complete with sights and sounds experienced by the “aquanauts”, and a high-definition theater screening a 17-minute video about Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary by world-renowned filmmaker Bob Talbot.

Visitors can also peer through an underwater camera to watch the spectacle of coral spawning, learn about the armaments that once defended remote Fort Jefferson, or take a journey through the natural habitats of south Florida, from the Everglades to teeming coral reefs.

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Jim Connaughton and retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, were among the dignitaries who attended the opening of the visitor center. The center was developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the South Florida Water Management District.

visitor center in Key West“I am honored to open the doors to Key West’s newest world-class attraction, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center,” Connaughton said. “Located in the heart of the city, the free visitor center offers visitors and residents alike the opportunity to spend an afternoon learning about the significance of south Florida’s natural and historic resources and how they can both enjoy and protect them.”

Other agencies and organizations that are represented in the center include NOAA’s National Weather Service and National Geodetic Survey, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Mote Marine Laboratory. Eastern National Foundation, a National Park Service cooperating association, operates a small museum store, the profits from which benefit the center.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation led the fundraising campaign for the exhibits, with assistance from Sanctuary Friends of the Florida Keys. Major donors include the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the South Florida Water Management District, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

“The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center brings together federal, state agencies and the private sector to help the public understand the value of this vital natural environment,” added Lautenbacher. “Through these efforts we will succeed in our mission to sustain it for the future.”

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which is managed by NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, protects 2,896 square nautical miles of important marine habitat, including maritime heritage resources, as well as coral reef, hard bottom, seagrass meadows, mangrove communities and sand flats.

As part of the ceremonies, NOAA's National Geodetic Survey installed the 1,001st Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) and the first in a new generation of CORS which provides precise positioning data in real time from both the U.S.-based Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian-based Global Navigational Satellite System.

The new positioning station is co-located with the Key West tide gauge, installed nearly 100 years ago, and becomes another component of NOAA's on-going development of an Integrated Ocean Observing System. The observing station will provide critical data relating local sea-level and other ocean surface changes.

"The development of an integrated ocean observing system is a fundamental way in which NOAA is fulfilling its mission of promoting healthy coastal and ocean environments," noted Lautenbacher, who is leading the United States' efforts to join with some 60 nations to create a global earth observing system.

NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

In 2007 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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