John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

11004006635_8b465ace26_oSpread over roughly 70 square nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is not your average public park. To visit, you must go underwater and snorkel or scuba dive to see the protected marine life and extensive coral reef, one of the only coral reef formations in the continental United States.

Though John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park wasn't officially designated such until 1963, it was seriously observed as early as the 1930s for preservation. The reefs, all the way through the 1950s, were being decimated for tourist-centered souvenirs. An editor of the Miami Herald, John Pennekamp, and Dr. Gilbert Voss of the Marine Institute of Miami lead an effort to protect the reef and its inhabitants from further destruction. In 1960, President Eisenhower created the Key Largo Reef Preserve, a name that was later changed to reflect Pennekamp's efforts in marine preservation, and it officially opened to the public in 1963.

Unlike most state parks, visitors must take to the water to enjoy the beauty of the park. By glass bottomed boat or swimming through the calm cerulean waves, thousands of yearly visitors explore the stunning marine beauty from the schools of tropical fish to sting rays and sea turtles gliding over the colorful coral reef. Hop on a canoe or kayak for a rewarding ecotourism activity, though John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park's most popular activity is diving. In diving, visitors will encounter something unexpected, an eight and a half foot tall statue of Jesus, Christ of the Abyss, designed as a twin to Il Cristo Degli Abissi in the Mediterranean Sea. Sitting in 25 foot water, visitors often snorkel or scuba dive to the incredible statue, and observe the peaceful beauty of nature meeting art.