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~Program provides free admission to environmental education centers all summer for military personnel and families~

The Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve are proud participants of the Blue Star Museums program, which offers free admission to active-duty military personnel, including National Guard and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The Blue Star Museums program is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America that provides families an opportunity to enjoy the nation's cultural heritage.

"We are proud to connect military families with the history and natural resources of Florida's National Estuarine Research Reserves," said Kevin Claridge, director of the Florida Coastal Office. "These environmental education centers and exhibit halls provide an opportunity for individuals of all ages to learn about the estuarine ecosystems of Florida."

The Guana Tolomato Matanzas Exhibit Hall in Ponte Vedra Beach features aquariums, habitat exhibits and life-size displays of right whales, birds and fish that call the estuary home. Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center in Naples has more than 3,000 gallons of aquariums, including a marine-life touch tank that immerses visitors in the Everglades ecosystem and area's rich history. Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve's Nature Center features a wall-spanning mural alongside three 1,000-gallon walk-around aquariums that represent the interconnected habitats of Apalachicola River, Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Coastal Office, these environmental education centers are part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System network of 28 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. They were established through the Coastal Zone Management Act and represent a partnership program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the coastal states.

This year, more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and American Samoa are taking part in the initiative. Blue Star Museums include not only fine arts museums, but also science museums, history museums, nature centers and dozens of children's museums. To view the complete list of participating museums, click here.

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