Fla. Keys artist begins 8-mile lighthouse swim

— A Florida Keys artist completed an eight-mile Atlantic Ocean swim Saturday to raise awareness for preserving six aging lighthouses off the island chain.

Larry Herlth’s roundtrip swim to Alligator Reef Lighthouse took the 52-year-old five hours and 11 minutes. He was escorted by several boats and paddle boarders.

Known locally as “Lighthouse Larry” for his detailed, scale metal reproductions of Keys lighthouses, Herlth is passionate about the need to preserve the large beacons originally fabricated in the 1800s to warn ships away from the Florida Keys reef tract.

Modern Global Positioning System navigation has replaced the need for lighthouses in the Keys and, with the exception of their navigation lights, they are no longer maintained.

“We need to bring the attention to a national treasure,” he said. “These structures need to be saved.”

Herlth called for the federal government to take the lead in preserving Keys lighthouses and compares them to icons such as the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

“Look at the money, time and resources spent on monuments in Washington that were not there when these (the lighthouses) were built,” he said. “These saved lives, commerce and these are an absolute part of our history.”

Herlth said he believes $16 million would be needed to stabilize Keys lighthouses.

To continue building awareness for lighthouse restoration, Herlth said he plans to lead efforts to organize a competitive swim next August from Islamorada to Alligator light.

Herlth was not the only distance swimmer in the ocean Saturday. About 80 miles away, off Key West, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad trained, preparing for a fourth attempt to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys. Nyad, who turns 63 Aug. 22, and her team are waiting for “great” weather conditions before beginning the effort.

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