April 18, 2018

BRENDA ALTMEIER/FKNMS 
Jill Miranda Baker, left, executive director of the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center, and Cheryl Oliver, acting communications director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, put the finishing touches on the 'Treasures of NOAA's Ark' traveling exhibit, opening April 18 at the Islamorada museum, mile marker 82, oceanside. The exhibit on early navigation and marine charting runs through early 2019.

BRENDA ALTMEIER/FKNMS  Jill Miranda Baker, left, executive director of the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center, and Cheryl Oliver, acting communications director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, put the finishing touches on the 'Treasures of NOAA's Ark' traveling exhibit, opening April 18 at the Islamorada museum, mile marker 82, oceanside. The exhibit on early navigation and marine charting runs through early 2019.

ISLAMORADA — Before scientific advances, early Florida Keys settlers could be cruelly surprised by dangerous storms and hidden reefs.

Now Keys residents can rely on accurate weather reports and detailed marine charts as part of the normal course of island life.

The adventuring explorers who paved the way for modern coastal science, beginning more than two centuries ago, will be honored at the “Treasures of NOAA’s Ark” traveling display, opening Wednesday, April 18, at the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center in Islamorada.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exhibit will remain at the museum, on The Islander Resort grounds at mile marker 82.1 oceanside, until February 2019. 

“We’re the first organization in the Keys to have the ‘Treasures of NOAA’s Ark,’ so it’s an honor to serve as its showcase,” said center Executive Director Jill Miranda Baker.

“It’s a pretty massive exhibit with lots of fascinating artifacts,” Baker said. “I don’t think we’ve had a bigger historical exhibit.”

NOAA, the agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce that oversees the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, can follow its history back to the “Survey of the Coast,” ordered by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807. A “Jefferson cup” designed and used by him is among the treasures on display.

The Florida Keys, with its hull-gutting reefs and hurricanes, were notorious among sailing mariners. After extensive surveys, many of the local reef lighthouses erected before the Civil War remain in use today.

“Treasures of NOAA’s Ark has been on the road since 2006. [Islamorada] is the 14th location,” said Cheryl Oliver, exhibit manager and acting communications director for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The exhibit “has gone through different renditions and this is our newest version,” Oliver said. “Wherever we go, and we’ve been to a lot of places, we try to tweak the heritage aspect and message so local people can see themselves in it.”

An 1898 daily log of sunshine observations from Key West is included, along with information on the creation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

NOAA was formed in 1970 by joining existing science agencies on weather, fishing and the environment. 

“It’s a really eclectic agency with the coolest mission,” Oliver said. “We measure everything from the bottom of the sea to the surface of the sun. We want people to come out, take a gander and find out about their rich history.”

Artifacts featured in “Treasures of NOAA’s Ark” include 18th-century maps and early scientific instruments.

From 5 to 8 p.m. April 18, an open house at the History and Discovery Center will have experts on hand to speak with visitors about NOAA’s efforts to safeguard the Keys reef.

Bill Goodwin can explain efforts to repair damaged corals, and Hank Becker will show how a mooring-buoy system now in worldwide use was invented by John Halas and other sanctuary staffers.

Others will answer questions about coral spawning, history of the Keys sanctuary’s shipwrecks and duties of the maritime NOAA Officer Corps. Chip Kasper of the National Weather Service in Key West discusses his marine forecasting expertise.

Marine historian James Tilghman delivers a talk on “History of the Coast Survey in the Florida Keys during the 1800s.”

The April 18 event is free but reservations are recommended. Call 305-922-2237.

“Treasures of NOAA’s Ark” then will be on display at the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center during regular weekly hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Admission is $12, $10 for seniors, and free for children ages 13 and under.

kwadlow@keysnews.com