REEF is the short name for the Reef Environmental Education Foundation established in 1990 in Key Largo with a variety of programs set up for children through adults. Although the yellow “Keys House” office on the median between the highways at 98300 Overseas Highway could be overlooked, it’s more noticeable now thanks to a recent grant, some talented individuals, and work of the staff.
The 1913 building is in fact the oldest house in the Upper Keys, and as is the case with many historic structures, handicap accessibility is limited and space can be tight for some of their popular gatherings. That has changed with the new Interpretive Center opened in December 2017. In order to best utilize the space that provides wheelchair accessibility, two modular sections were brought in and adeptly joined together to become a multi-functional room for interpretive displays and classes. The impressive “wrap-around” interior mural is far greater than simply decorative, however. Stephen Frink, Key Largo’s internationally known underwater photographer, provided a series of his images and Jim Hellemn of San Diego used his incredible techniques to take the images and create a floor-to-ceiling seamless journey through different local underwater environments. Thirty-three species of fish are displayed in the sections of Shipwrecks in Service, Biodiversity in Barrier Reefs, Patch Reefs and Predators, and Important Inshore Habitats.
The fish and turtle featured are what REEF focuses on in the local area surveys. The center is open during regular hours of 9:00-5:00, Mon-Fri. Their on-going and some new programs will be posted to the calendar as soon as they are scheduled.
The exterior of REEF also had a make-over with some notable features. One of the original wooden cisterns has been restored as a reminder of the days before pipelines were in place. A Native Plants Trail has interpretive signs about flora and fauna. This wide, wheelchair-accessible path dotted with a few picnic tables, curves around the office building. Other plans are to install an electric car charging station and a solar-powered telephone charging station.
If you aren’t familiar with REEF, their mission statement is, “REEF conserves marine environments worldwide. Our mission is to protect biodiversity and ocean life by actively engaging and inspiring the public through citizen science, education, and partnerships with the scientific community.”
Although fish surveys scuba divers and snorkelers participate in is a major program of REEF, there are workshops and events open to anyone who cares about marine conservation. If you’re in the area, set aside some time to stop by the center for a leisurely stroll to enjoy the mural of our “fin friends” and chat with the staff.
For more information log onto http://www.reef.org;Tel: (305) 852-0030.