Keys historian combines love of history and snorkeling

Snorkeling the Florida Keys
Snorkeling the Florida Keys

Those interested in Keys history, particularly in the Upper Keys, know well the names of historians Jerry Wilkinson and Irving Eyster.

They are the go-to people for anyone with questions about the background of a local landmark, longtime business, noted figure or tropical storm. But emerging on the scene is Brad Bertelli.

Bertelli, 47, is actually a protege of Wilkinson and now the vice president of the Historical Preservation Society of the Upper Keys, which Wilkinson founded and serves as president.

Bertelli’s third book, “Snorkeling the Florida Keys,” was published this month by the University Press of Florida. The book focuses on 14 snorkeling sites from Biscayne National Park to the Dry Tortugas. It not only tells the reader what makes each site a unique snorkeling experience, it also provides the history of the reefs, shipwrecks and people who once sailed the waters covering the world’s third largest coral reef barrier system.

Bertelli, 47, wrote his first book, “Snorkeling Florida,” in 2008. The book is a snorkeling guide to the entire state “from the Panhandle to the Keys, including springs and rivers in Central Florida,” Bertelli said.

He also writes a twice-a-month column on Keys history for The Reporter, called “Notes on Keys History.”

With Wilkinson, Bertelli co-wrote “Key Largo,” which was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2012.

“Through the use of 195 black and white images from the 1880s to the 1980s, ‘Key Largo’ details the development of the island of Key Largo,” Bertelli said. He and Wilkinson are in the process of writing a similar book on Islamorada.

He calls “Snorkeling the Florida Keys” a “marriage of my interest in snorkeling and my interest in the history of the Florida Keys.”

Bertelli, originally from California, moved to the Keys after earning a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Miami in 2001.

He said his interest in Keys history emerged after researching Indian Key, “one of my favorite spots to snorkel.”

“I began doing more research about the Upper Keys and then started to do some writing about it,” Bertelli said. “The more I wrote, the more I became intrigued with the tremendous wealth of history. I contacted Jerry Wilkinson and showed him what I was working on, and the rest is, as they say, history.”

His research began in the Florida Room at the Islamorada branch of the Monroe County library.

“Next, I started buying every old book, map and document I could find about the area,” Bertelli said. “As it turned out, the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and before I knew it, I realized I was developing my next book.”

Bertelli will sign copies of “Snorkeling the Florida Keys” on Saturday, April 13, beginning at 1 p.m. at Hooked on Books, mile marker 81.9 oceanside, Islamorada.

The book has the ringing endorsement of noted Miami Herald outdoors writer Susan Cocking, who calls it “a thinking-person’s guide to exploring the rich maritime history and vital ecology of South Florida’s reef system, laden with fascinating historical nuggets and practical tips for novice and experienced snorkelers.”

You can buy a copy of “Snorkeling the Florida Keys” at Hooked on Books, and Barnes and Noble. Autographed copies are available at Retail price is $19.95.