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SEJ Keys trip wraps up

Our SEJ post-conference tour of the Florida Keys wrapped up Wednesday. We visited the Butterfly Pavillion and the Eco-Dicovery Center in Key West, went snorkeling at Looe Key, released a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle and toured and frolicked at Bahia Honda State Park.

Thanks everyone.


Jesssica Marshall emerges from the blue water around Looe Key during the snorkeling trip on Monday.


Hannah Hamilton, Cheryl Reifsnyder, Gordon Henrichs and Jaclyn McDougal on Tuesday assist staff of the Sea Turtle Hospital in releasing Karsten, a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle.


Post-conference tour participants on Tuesday listen as Park Manager Eric Kiefer discusses visitation and the economic impact of Bahia Honda State Park.


A golden sunset viewed from the old bridge at Bahia Honda State Park on Tuesday.


The tour continues!

The Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami is over for more than 800 journalists and other participants but it continues for those on the post-conference tour of the Florida Keys.

After a breakfast with authors at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden on Sunday, the Keys tour left on the bus for Key Largo for a meeting over coffee and desserts with the Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation. SEJ members were able to sit at tables with fellows grouped in areas of research such as South Florida ecology.

Then it was on to Key West with a reception at the Key West Butterfly Pavilion and Conservatory, a wonderful place to visit. (It mixes tropical butterflies with colorful birds). Then participants were free to experience the Key West nightlife during Fantasy-fest, including more than 2,000 Zombie bicycle riders.

Monday began with a visit to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center where tour participants heard from a panel of scientists along with a businessman and local environmental activist. From there, we went to Big Pine Key for a snorkeling trip on Looe Key part of a national marine sanctuary. Highlights included a few harmless sharks, barracuda, French angel fish, and a small moray eel and among other reef residents.

The evening wrapped up with dinner and a slide show at the aptly-named Sunset Grille overlooking the 7-mile bridge.

Tuesday begins with breakfast at a visit to the Turtle Hospital to be followed with a planned release of a rehabbed sea turtle. Then we’re off to Bahia Honda State Park to hear a talk on park resources followed by some hiking, kayaking and swimming.

The final schedule

Sunday, Oct. 23
NOTE — You should bring your packed bags to the Fairchild Gardens events on Sunday and they will be loaded onto the tour bus there. If you do not need to be at the Book Authors’ Pitch Slam, please board the bus at 11:45 a.m.

SEJ conference ends, tour bus departs promptly from Fairchild Gardens.

1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Meet with Pew Fellows in Marine Conservation at Key Largo Grande Resort

5:30 p.m.
Southernmost Hotel in Key West check-in, (305) 296-6577

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Optional reception/dinner at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy hosted by Visit Florida Keys

Mon. Oct. 24
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Breakfast at Southernmost Hotel cafe (charge to room)

Bus departure to Eco-Discovery Center (or walk on your own, approximately one mile)

9 a.m to 11 a.m.
Self-guided tour, optional movie viewing, presentation and panel discussion: “Is the sun setting or rising on the Florida Keys?”

11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Bus departs for Strike Zone charters

1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Snorkeling at Looe Key

6:30 p.m.
Registration, Holiday Inn Express in Marathon, (305) 289-0222

7:30 p.m.
Social and dinner at the Sunset Grille. (LOCATION CHANGE).

Tues. Oct. 25
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Complimentary breakfast, Holiday Inn Express

8:30 a.m.
Departure for the Turtle Hospital in Marathon

9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Visit to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon

11 a.m.
Bus departure for visit to Blue Hole or Sea Turtle Release

Arrive Bahia Honda State Park, 305-872-3210
(Note, if foul weather prevents a snorkeling trip on Monday, we will seek to reschedule for Tuesday and will cancel Bahia Honda State Park visit)

12:30 to 1 p.m.
Lunch, Bahia Honda State Park concessionaire

1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Beach swimming, shopping at concessionaire, hanging out

2 p.m.
Park manager Eric Kiefer, discussion of general park topics

2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Park history, nature hike to Bahia Honda Bridge

4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Optional nearshore self-guided kayaking trips (EARLIER END TIME)

5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Local seafood sampler

6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunset photos

7 p.m.
Bus departure from park, return to Marathon

Wed. Oct. 26
7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. breakfast at Holiday Inn Express

8:30 a.m.
Bus departs Holiday Inn Express

1 p.m.
Arrive Miami Airport

What to wear, what to leave home?

I remember signing up for a guided mountain-biking trip in Colorado. The guide outfitters told us to bring rain coats.

So we went out and bought raincoats, some nylon covered jacket with a thick inner lining. Big mistake. The jackets were bulky, too hot and completely inappropriate in every way for the high country of Colorado.

What we had was a failure to communicate.

So maybe the same thing could happen here in Florida. I live here. When I say bring swimsuits and water shoes, what could go wrong?

Well men, that doesn’t mean bring your Speedo bikinis, and it doesn’t mean bring your rubber boots or galoshes.

Men (all three of you), bring loose fitting swim trunks with inner liners and pockets — the kind you can wear as shorts all day. And bring several pairs, and perhaps even some that have zip off pants legs.

Here are some of my other suggestions. I’ve added links to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. If you don’t have it, just bring the next best thing unless you live near a place that sells them and you really want to buy them.

My wife, Sue Ellen, is going on the trip and also has listed her suggestions.

For men:
Light, wide brimmed nylon hat

Baseball hat, suitable for losing or getting wet

Party hat (of your choice, you’re in the Keys after all)

Long sleeve shirt with roll up sleeves, possibly ventilated

Zip off pants

Light short sleeve vented shirt

Heavier shirt that could double as light jacket

Very light hiking shoes or running shoes

activewear sandals such as Chaco or Teva

flip flops

Rashguard shirt with SPF protection


chapstick with sunscreen

liquid insect repellant in small container
I’m hesitant to recommend this at all. Don’t use before getting on the bus and don’t use unless absolutely necessary but keep it nearby.

Hooded rain jacket (no liner, packs in stuff sack)

A small dry bag if you have one already.

Camera, definitely. On the boat — maybe not.

A hiking bag with water bottle (If you have one already)

From Sue Ellen (for the 14 ladies)
See Bruce’s hat recommendations
Hooded rain jacket
2 bathing suits
1 pair board shorts (quick dry)
2 pairs other shorts (1 quick dry, 1 cotton)
1 pair quick-dry, long cargo pants
1 quick-dry rash guard shirt with SPF 50 (for beach, snorkeling, being out in the sun)
1 long-sleeved, light t-shirt (for cold rooms and cool nights)
1 long-sleeved light pullover hoodie (for cool nights)
2 tank tops
1-2 cotton short-sleeved t-shirts
1 pair flip flops (or you can buy great Kino Sandals in Key West! Only $13!!
1 pair Chaco sandals
1 pair water shoes
Quick-dry undergarments

Reading for the Keys — add your suggestions!

Here are a few travel books to get you thinking about our Keys trip (with links to They also may be available in your local library. I’m sure there are plenty more. Please offer your own suggestions:

The Florida Keys: The Natural Wonders of an Island Paradise, text by Jeff Ripple. Photographs by Jeff Ripple and Bill Keogh.

The Key West reader : the best of Key West’s writers, 1830-1990 / edited and with an introduction by George Murphy ; foreword by Les Standiford. Murphy, George.

The Florida keys : a history & guide / Joy Williams. Williams, Joy, 1944-

Frommer’s South Florida.

The insiders’ guide to the Florida Keys & Key West.

South Florida : an explorer’s guide / Sandra Friend & Kathy Wolf. Friend, Sandra.

Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys, Deborah Straw.

Florida Keys Paddling Guide: From Key Largo to Key West, by Bill Keogh.

Introduce yourself!

Hi SEJ Keys tour participants!

I hope we can introduce ourselves so that we can have more fun on our trip. This could also help you pair up with a hotel roommate.

And perhaps you could also say a little bit about what you’re looking forward to on the trip.

I’ll get the ball rolling. I’m Bruce Ritchie and I work in Tallahassee as a reporter covering environmental issues at the state Capitol for The Florida Tribune and for my blog.

I’ve been to 13 SEJ conferences beginning in 1992 in Ann Arbor, Mich. I have long anticipated an SEJ conference in Florida and I became involved in the Miami conference back in January as I helped get the Cuba post-conference tour started. At that time I also suggested having a Keys trip as a way for conference attendees from around the nation see this slice of paradise.

I’ve been briefly to Key Largo and that’s it, so I look forward to seeing Key West. I hope the tour is both informative and relaxing. I’ve only been snorkeling on coral reefs a few times so I look forward to any chance I can get.

My wife, Sue Ellen, will be my roommate. She’s been to at least seven SEJ conferences and still is willing to go on the post-conference tour. Feel free to contact me at or 850-385-1774.

Please, introduce yourself!

Florida’s Reefs Cannot Endure a ‘Cold Snap,’ by ScienceDaily

By ScienceDaily

Remember frozen iguanas falling from trees during Florida’s 2010 record-breaking cold snap? Well, a new study led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science shows that Florida’s corals also dropped in numbers due to the cold conditions.

“It was a major setback,” said Diego Lirman, associate professor at the UM Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study. “Centuries-old coral colonies were lost in a matter of days.”

Read more at:

Read University of Miami news release at:

Photo courtesy of the University of Miami, Doug Lirman