KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The southernmost island chain’s vibrant marine environment is to be celebrated with live music, artistry, kids’ activities, educational exhibits and more during the third annual Florida Keys Ocean Festival, set for noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 24.

Presented by Florida-based Mote Marine Laboratory, the event takes place at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, located on Key West’s Truman Waterfront past the end of Southard Street. Admission and parking are free.

The visitor center for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the facility showcases the region’s unique ecosystem including the living coral reef that parallels the Keys. A living reef exhibit created by Mote Marine Laboratory is one of the center’s highlights.

During the Ocean Festival, renowned artist Pasta Pantaleo is to paint a 4–by-8-foot mural with help from kids in attendance. Anticipated to be worth more than $4,000, the completed mural will be auctioned to raise money for Mote Marine’s Protect Our Reefs program, which works to restore Florida Keys reef tracts.

Attendees at the lively festival can enjoy food, soft drinks, beer and cocktails; explore touch tanks, see live animals, bid on items at a silent benefit auction, vie for prizes and listen to live music. Scheduled musical guests are the Nick Norman Band with Caffeine Carl, Scott Kirby and Country Dave Edmisten, and the Riddum Tree featuring Jeff Clark and Randy Morrow.

More than 30 exhibits are to spotlight the Keys’ conservation efforts and the work of nonprofit organizations, and a like number of marine artists, craftspeople and vendors plan to showcase their wares.

In addition, an informative fishing seminar and angling opportunity is scheduled for kids ages 5 to 11. To participate, youngsters must register online at www.keysoceanfest.org. Free rods and reels await the first 100 registrants.

Proceeds from the festival support Mote Marine Laboratory’s coral reef restoration and research programs.

Event information: www.keysoceanfest.org

Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY

Social: facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywesttwitter.com/thefloridakeysyoutube.com/FloridaKeysTV

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