Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

golden medallion in a case
two people looking at a seagrass exhibit
women presenting to a child

Welcome to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

35 Quay Road
Key West, FL 33040

Since opening in 2007, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary's Eco-Discovery Center has provided visitors and locals an opportunity to explore the sanctuary without getting their feet wet. Now, sanctuary staff from the Keys and national headquarters have reimagined its 6,000 square feet of exhibit space by creating a modern, immersive experience while preserving the original entry feeā€“free! With financial support from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council and National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, over $1 million in funding was raised to support renovations, fueling teams of carpet layers, fabricators and IT gurus ($725,000 from TDC and $295,000 in federal funds).

"As soon as you step into the waters of the Florida Keys you are in the sanctuary," said superintendent Sarah Fangman. "We have a responsibility to demonstrate how to responsively enjoy the resource, and the Eco-Discovery Center does that in an engaging way that encourages visitors to take ownership through discovery."

New features include an interactive mangrove exhibit, where a native red mangrove tree reaches from the corner of the room with its arching root system. Visitors can test their listening skills, by selecting buttons and guessing the calls of mangrove animal residents, or their sense of touch in a tactile enclosure.

Renovated exhibits afford increased hands-on experiences and greater accessibility for all audiences. Behind an expansive image of the seafloor, retractable cylinders reveal recreations of seagrass habitat, sea urchins, crabs, and many other critters that live in sanctuary waters.

The Florida Keys is home to the only coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and the Eco-Discovery Center focuses much attention on this most important and fragile ecosystem. While an electronic microscope brings into focus the hardened remnants of coral structures, visitors can learn how they were built by thousands of tiny animals called polyps, and how they interact with the world around them. Visitors can also see how the sanctuary and partners are working to preserve and protect our reefs through conservation and coral restoration programs, featuring MOTE Marine Lab's recreation of an in-water coral nursery.

Over the centuries, more than 2,000 ships have wrecked inside sanctuary waters and visitors can explore the most famous through a maritime history exhibit that features projected images of wreck sites and long-lost artifacts, including a cannon from the 1733 Spanish fleet that foundered in Keys.

Visitors can explore the Eco-Discovery Center in a self-paced tour, but staff and volunteers are also onsite to provide additional information about the Florida Keys. On weekends, you will find educational carts to learn about animal adaptations, featuring skeletons of various sea creatures. For those who may need a break from the noise and excitement of a visitor center, the EDC provides sensory kits and also hosts a sensory room onsite. In addition, all of the exhibits are translated into additional languages.

Don't miss a replica of the Aquarius undersea research lab, and a 20-minute film that plays on a loop inside the center's 100-seat theater.

As people explore and interact with the exhibits, it is hoped that visitors will be inspired to take steps to help preserve and conserve these unique ecosystems that lie within the Keys sanctuary, but also in their own local environments. The Eco-Discovery Center is one of the few, free attractions in Key West, located along the Truman waterfront on the way to Ft. Zachary Taylor Historic State Park and Beach. On an average day, anywhere from 200 to over 300 visitors may come through its doors, and one of them should be you on your next trip to Key West!

Volunteers Needed

Help us protect, restore, and inspire others to connect with the unique marine resources of the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center relies on volunteers to keep its doors open. We are seeking volunteers for the following positions so that we may expand our operating hours:

Eco-Discovery Center Docent (4-hour shift once per week)

Volunteers must be age 16 or older for most positions, and are required to pass a background check including fingerprints.

For more information on volunteering, please email Elizabeth.Trueblood@noaa.gov, or by visiting our volunteer page.

Eco-Discovery Center paddle board exhibit