Coral reefs explored at new center

ISLAMORADA -- A learning center, highlighting the geological evolution of the Florida Keys, opened here recently.

ImageThe Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center at the Windley Key Quarry Fossil Reef State Geologic Site showcases the role of coral reefs in fabricating the Florida Keys island chain during the last 100 centuries.

The center, on state land, is funded with a $350,000 state grant and provides interactive exhibits focusing on past and present geological aspects of North America's only contiguous barrier coral reef.

Windley Quarry and two adjacent quarries began to be mined in the early 1900s when railroad magnate Henry Flagler was building the Overseas Railroad.

Laborers chiseled out huge blocks of coral to serve as supports for railroad bridges. In 1985, the state acquired the land for $3.2 million.

"The quarry is unique in the world," according to Alison Fahrer, former Keys commissioner. It's the only place anywhere that you can stand inside a coral reef and see how it's built," she said.

Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geologic Site

Address: Mile Marker 85, Islamorada

Hours: Thursday through Monday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Free to the center, but access to the quarries and hammocks is priced at $1.50.

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