SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 121

the Overseas Highway (US Rt. 1) and we stopped at a roadside restaurant housed in an open pavilion with a palm-thatched roof. At one point I had to go to the restroom located behind the building. It was on a marina and I stared down into the green water lit up by electric lights. There were a lot of fish including one the size of a dinner plate. The back of the wall was filled with paintings made by a local artist who works at the restaurant. The themes were of sea life and birds.

Fish and other wildlife are abundant here because much of the archipelago and surrounding ocean is part of a marine sanctuary – the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Added to this, the adjacent mainland is one of America’s largest national parks, the Everglades. Then, there is the nearby Florida Reef which is the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world. Also, the waters around the Florida Keys have a lot of wrecks and these manmade structures serve as shelter and spawning grounds for marine life.

One night we were driving back from Key West to our hotel on Islamorada Key. There was no light except for the moon over the Caribbean Sea hitting some wisps of clouds and leaving a trail across the water that was on both sides of the road. Occasionally, you could see the lights of an ocean-going ship or the houses on tiny islands not connected to the land. We came to the island where the Key Deer have a sanctuary and there were signs warning us to drive carefully to avoid hitting deer. I saw a small, brown creature on the side of the road and told Hans to be careful, that’s an endangered species.

At one point, the population of Key Deer, a subspecies of the White Tailed Deer, had been reduced to 27 individuals. In 1957, conservation efforts began and the population has grown to 1000. Still, every year about 150 deer are killed by motorists. Yet consider that the human population of the Keys is about 77,000 people. In addition to this, there are several hundred thousand tourists visiting the area annually. That is a lot of people and cars and boats for such a small area. The human population density is 532 per square mile.