Ecotourism in Florida, Part 3: Florida Keys Green Accommodations and Island Cuisine

Reader Contribution by John Ivanko
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The adventure in the water, on the water or on dry land does not stop with the ecotravel activities in the Florida Keys, many of which help preserve and conserve the very things we came to see. Some of the lodging options – and restaurants or food options – are an adventure in and of themselves.

We kicked back for a while at the 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort, with its luxurious rooms, plentiful pools and a saltwater lagoon. It’s located on the tranquil Duck Key, roughly half way out the string of islands. The resort’s $35 million renovation in 2008 focused on water and energy conservation. Their partnership with the Dolphin Connection echo their commitment to environmental awareness in a way that a certain Florida amusement park headlined by a mouse could only fantasize about.

Hawks Cay Resort’s Ocean restaurant features Mediterranean cuisine and sustainable seafood selections, including lobster, Mahi Mahi and other local fish. If basing your adventures here, there are spectacular sunrises, abundant fishing in nearby channels, kayaks for hire and charter boats on stand-by for your own fishing expedition, snorkel or snuba or scuba diving trip. There’s even the Indies Club filled with activities for young kids and tweens.

Rent My Island and Island Cuisine

For the remainder of my family’s trip, we rented a private home from Rent My Island, where we could do our own cooking, often with fish we caught ourselves. Like most MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers, we’re big on self-reliance. There’s a lot to be said for blending in with the locals and Rent My Island provides just about everything you need to blend in: beach gear, kayaks and, depending on your rental, a small boat to get back and forth to your own island. Our spacious house in Marathon’s “Little Venice” allowed us numerous visits from a whole family of endangered manatees, rare since only about 3,300 manatees remain in the wild. Thanks to Captain Kevin Johnsen, owner of Florida Keys Reel Adventures based at Captain Hooks on Marathon, we traded our farming in the Midwest for fishing in the Keys. Just a few hours out with Captain Johnsen set us up with enough fish for a week of uber-local eating. He helped filet our fish and shared his fish taco recipe, too. Also through Rent My Island, we hung out for a brief time on our very own private mangrove island shared with five-foot-long iguanas. This villa-plus-island rental, ideal for the more budget-minded, included a seventeen-foot motorboat, kayaks and the kind of escape into nature only possible on a private island. The company also rents out more luxurious islands, but with a price tag to match.  Deer Run Bed & Breakfast on Big Pine Key is another super green lodging option, but only if you don’t have kids in tow.

On Marathon – widely known as a sports-fishing Mecca — we did what every ecotraveler should do if they care about the reef and the fish population that live there: eat the exotic and invasive Lionfish. (Don’t worry, the poisonous spines that protrude from the fish are removed prior to cooking.) The non-native Lionfish are threatening the fish populations throughout Keys and parts of the Caribbean. When we discovered that John Mirabella, the co-owner of Castaway Waterfront Restaurant and Sushi Bar, spends a day diving to spear Lionfish, turning them into amazing sushi or prepared “rec-diver style,” we literally took a bite out of the problem by savoring them at his restaurant.

On Key West, Help Yourself Café is the place – perhaps the only place — for organic, vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Chef Charlie Wilson has mastered her talent for both procuring sustainably-grown food and serving it up in some of the most delicious and creative ways we’ve ever tasted. Don’t miss her vegan lasagna or smoothies.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authoredRural Renaissance, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently,9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.