Following are milestones in the history of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary:
1960: Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is designated, becoming the first underwater park in the United States. Intended primarily to protect the Florida Keys reef, its original boundaries extended past the reef to depths of 60 feet.
1972: Legal questions over Florida managing federal waters beyond the three-mile state jurisdiction prompted passage of the federal Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, signed into law by President Nixon. Now the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries oversees 13 marine sanctuaries and a protected national monument in Hawaiian waters.
1981: The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is created to protect 5.3 square nautical miles of spur-and-groove coral reef off Big Pine Key. At the Key Largo sanctuary, the first mooring buoys are installed to reduce anchor damage to coral and seagrass.
1991 to 1996: Work on the sanctuary management plan and its environmental impact statement takes place. Commercial fishermen and treasure salvors help create the Conch Coalition to fight implementation of sanctuary rules, fearing federal overreach that might limit fishing and boating. Meetings and hearings on the sanctuary plan grow contentious, bitter and loud.
2005: A decade after the heated meetings over the original sanctuary management plan, a series of four hearings on plan adjustments draws fewer than three dozen people in all. Most of those supported the sanctuary or asked general questions.