Daryl Duda, of Key Largo, often dives with Rainbow Reef Dive Center in search of marine wonders to photograph. CONTRIBUTED

One certain stand of elkhorn coral and one “smiley” balloonfish from the Florida Keys will be making their way around the country – as part of a new collection of stamps featuring marine life. 

On Friday, Aug. 5, the U.S. Postal Service will release a collection of Forever stamps that commemorate this 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. Images feature the different marine sanctuaries and celebrate the rich diversity of life they protect. 

The National Marine Sanctuary System turns 50 on Oct. 23, 2022. According to NOAA, there are currently 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments. This includes the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), which preserves the Florida Reef Tract and the many shipwrecks.

“For 50 years, U.S. national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments have protected areas with special ecological, cultural and historical significance,” said Kim Frum, USPS spokeswoman. “The U.S. Postal Service celebrates the nation’s underwater treasures with the release of the National Marine Sanctuaries stamps.”

Images include photographs taken by members of the public and NOAA employees. An illustrated map of the National Marine Sanctuary System is printed on the back of the pane. With the balloonfish and the endangered coral, both taken within theisland chain, the Florida Keys are well represented within the 16-stamp set. Other stamps feature California sea lions, a sand tiger shark and the Farallon Islands. 

FKNMS Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman said, “I’m really excited about this partnership with the USPS highlighting sanctuaries and you can be sure every piece of mail I’ll be sending will have one of these stamps on it.”

Elkhorn coral is a branching coral that used to thrive in the Keys and provide habitat for many animals. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE/Contributed

Elkhorn coral is a branching coral that used to dominate tropical reefs. It’s foundational, providing key habitat and protection for the many species of fish and invertebrates. According to NOAA, shifts in ocean temperatures and carbon levels, water quality, fishing activity and coral disease decimated local populations. This stamp immortalizes how the Keys used to look, and what coral practitioners are working to bring back.

Local diver and underwater photographer Daryl Duda snapped the balloonfish while diving on Molasses Reef with Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo. He said, “They are probably my favorite fish to photograph as they always seem to have a smile on their face. The hard part is shooting them straight on as they always seem to want to rotate slowly away from your camera.”

A retired audio/video/film technician for motion pictures and television, Duda now searches for images in the sea. He’s been honing his craft in underwater photography for about 15 years and always finds interesting marine life to shoot while diving with Rainbow Reef, he said. 

Fangman thanked Duda for sharing the beauty of Keys waters with the world. There are over 6,000 species that call the sanctuary home and make it a captivating place to explore, she said. “I love his image because the balloonfish seems to be smiling and its eyes are wide open: sort of like everyone who has a chance to visit these waters,” she added. 

Daryl Duda’s smiling balloonfish from Key Largo has made the cut for the final set of stamps celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE/Contributed

An advisory committee evaluates and selects what stamps get printed, considering up to 30,000 possible subjects each year, Frum told the Weekly. The marine sanctuaries stamp series is a first for NOAA. 

“I am honored to have one of my photos in this National Marine Sanctuary that protects areas of the marine environment with special conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, cultural, archeological, scientific, educational and esthetic qualities,” Duda said. “The National Marine Sanctuaries give us hope to help save our oceans and natural American bodies of water.”

“The image of the fish taken by Daryl Dyda in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is a miniature masterpiece, featured on millions of stamps,” Frum said. 

The new National Marine Sanctuary Forever stamps will always be equal in value to current first-class mail 1-ounce prices. UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE/Contributed

Each stamp currently costs 60 cents, and the pane of 16 is $9.60. They’ll always be equal in value to current First-Class Mail 1-ounce prices. The stamps go on sale at post office locations nationwide on Aug. 5. Orders can be made online at or by calling 844-737-7826. USPS prints enough stamps to last roughly a year, Frum confirmed. 

John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, praised this “colorful acknowledgement” of the administration’s marquee anniversary. “As these stamps show up in mailboxes across America,” he said, “we hope they’ll inspire everyone to celebrate, discover, explore and enjoy the unique wonders of the National Marine Sanctuary System.”