Frequently Asked Questions

People on a dock talking.
Mission: Iconic Reefs team members embarking on a day at sea with volunteers. Photo: Jay Clue.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions about Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

If you have a question that you don't see listed here, let us know at

What is a marine sanctuary?

National marine sanctuaries are federally-protected waters that include habitats such as rocky reefs, kelp forests, deep-sea canyons, and underwater cultural resources. Each sanctuary site is a unique place needing special protections. They form part of a larger network called the National Marine Sanctuary System, which encompasses marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.

How can I plan my trip to the sanctuary?

Download our mobile app: Marine Sanctuary Explorer, available for free. From here, you can research, plan and bookmark your favorite sites to visit, including land-based attractions like our Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center.

Can I book a snorkel, dive, or fishing trip with Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary?

The sanctuary does not conduct trips; however, you can book dive and snorkel trips with NOAA-recognized Blue Star Diving operators and Blue Star Fishing Guides to help ensure that you tread lightly on the marine environment during your visit to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. We have lots of other great tips for how to be a responsible diver while visiting the sanctuary on our responsible diving page.

When is lobster season?

There are two lobster seasons within Monroe County, Florida, where the majority of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is located. The two-day sport lobster season is the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July. Regular lobster season is August 6 through March 31. View this brochure for additional information.

How do I know if I am in a no-take or no-fishing zone in the Florida Keys?

Sanctuary preservation areas and ecological reserves in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are marked by 30-inch diameter yellow buoys around the perimeter of the zone. Mooring buoys within these zones will be marked with a sticker which denotes that fishing is not allowed. The exception is that the two parts of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve (north and south) are not marked. The best way to navigate the marine zones of the sanctuary is to download our free Marine Sanctuary Explorer mobile app.

Where can I get a copy of the latest Florida fishing regulations?

You can get copy of the latest Florida fishing regulations on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.

Am I allowed to camp on islands in the Florida Keys?

Everglades National Park has only a few islands in Florida Bay that can be visited during the day and have designated campsites. A permit is required to camp on these islands.

Camping is prohibited on all publicly owned islands in National Wildlife Refuges within the Keys.

There are some private islands that people historically camp on, but this requires the permission of the property owner.

Am I allowed to bring my dog on "backcountry" islands in the national wildlife refuges and national parks?

No. Due to the sensitive nature of the habitat and the need to not cause disturbance to nesting birds or sea turtles, pets are not allowed on islands managed by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service.

For information about camping on the main islands of the Florida Keys or at Dry Tortugas National Park, take a look at this camping guide.

Can I make a camping reservation at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary?

The sanctuary boundary starts at the mean high-water mark and therefore the sanctuary does not operate any campgrounds. There are private campgrounds and state park campgrounds throughout the Keys where you can make a camping reservation. Check out this camping itinerary for visiting Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Dry Tortugas National Park.

What rules pertain to interacting with wild dolphins?

Dolphins' natural behavior can be easily disturbed and viewing dolphins in the wild should be done respectfully and from a distance of at least 150 feet (50 yards). Feeding wild dolphins or close interactions such as swimming that interrupt important behaviors like resting, feeding, and nursing are prohibited by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. For more information on proper wildlife viewing, visit NOAA Fisheries Marine Life Viewing Guidelines and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Wildlife Viewing Guidelines.

Where can I swim with dolphins?

Because dolphins' natural behavior can be easily disturbed, interaction with dolphins in the wild should be done respectfully and limited to viewing these mammals from a distance of at least 150 feet (50 yards). Certain permitted facilities in the Florida Keys do offer opportunities to swim with trained dolphins. For more information on proper wildlife viewing, visit NOAA Fisheries Marine Life Viewing Guidelines NOAA Fisheries and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Wildlife Viewing Guidelines.

What can I do to help take care of the coral reef?

  1. Practice safe and responsible diving and snorkeling. Coral reefs are fragile and take a very long time to grow back when disturbed or damaged. Avoid touching reefs or anchoring your boat on the reef. Contact with the reef will damage the delicate coral animals, and anchoring on the reef can kill corals. The best way to anchor your watercraft is to look for sandy bottom where seagrasses, corals, and sponges are not present, or use moorings in locations where mooring buoys are available. You can learn how to use a mooring buoy here.
  2. Take a reef-friendly approach to sun protection. Some ingredients in sunscreen can be harmful to or even kill corals. Inform yourself of coral-safe sun protection choices. You can also cut down on sunscreen usage by wearing a long-sleeved shirt or rash guard to prevent sunburn.
  3. Get involved with restoring the reefs through our Iconic Reef Guardians program.

Where can I find weather information, buoy data, or tides information for the Florida Keys online?

Visit our Marine Conditions page for links to data sources to help you prepare for upcoming activities on the water.