Page 1 of 4
The National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida Keys are unmatched anywhere in the world. They are a part of the
National Wildlife Refuge System extensive network of lands and waters protected and managed especially for wildlife
and its habita. A branch of the U S Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge System protects more than
92 million acres of land and water from Alaska to the Florida Keys and from the South Pacific to Maine, preserving
critical habitat for 170 federally listed threatened or endangered species and other wildlife. Symbolized by the Blue
Goose, these national treasures inspire more than 30 million visitors a year.
There are four National Wildlife Refuges located in this extraordinary and seemingly endless expanse of sea, islands and
sky—the National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron, Key West and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuges. These
refuges are part of a vast subtropical ecosystem. This distinctive chain of islands stretches almost 150 miles from the
southeastern tip of Florida, curving gently westward dividing the aqua-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the distant
deep blue Atlantic Ocean. These refuges support several habitats that sustain a wide variety of plants and animals, some
of which do not exist an else on earth.
The four refuges include more than 416,000 acres of land and open water. Most keys are fringed along the shoreline by
red and black mangroves. On larger keys, this gives way to a wide variety of tropical and subtropical trees and shrubs on
slightly higher ground. These lands maintain a unique biodiversity by protecting and preserving important freshwater
wetlands, mangroves, tropical hardwood forests (hammocks), and pine rockland forests. Together, these habitats provide
the four basic components of a habitat—food, water, shelter and open space— necessary for the survival of 22 federally
listed threatened or endangered species and other native wildlife. As commercial and residential development in the Keys
increases, pressure on limited land and water resources become more crucial to the survival of this fragile ecosystem.
The bird life on the refuges include a variety of long legged wading birds such as egrets and rare species such as the
roseate spoonbill. One can occasionally see these wading birds on their spindly legs patiently stalking the flats, stabbing
the water for fish in the company of pelicans. One may also find more elusive birds such as the white-crowned pigeon. A
birding checklist is available at the refuge visitor center.
Visitors may also see diminutive Key deer, toothy alligators and colorful butterflies. You might even catch a glimpse of a
leaping dolphin or a ray gliding along the bottom of the shallow flats. The waters teem with brilliantly colored tropical fish.
Anglers have opportunities to catch challenging sportfish such as bonefish, tarpon and permit. Catch and release of these
sportfish is an encouraged tradition.
The visitor center for the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges is located in the Big Pine Key Plaza on Key Deer Boulevard,
1/4 mile north of the traffic light on US 1 at mile marker 30. Visitors are encouraged to stop in for more information about
the refuges and see the wildlife displays. The center is accessible to the disabled. The administrative headquarters for the
Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges are located on Big Pine Key at the west end of Watson Boulevard.
Managing the National Wildlife Refuge System
The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of October 9, 1997 recognizes as law that the primary function of a National
Wildlife Refuge is to conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitat for the long- term benefit of the American people. Public
use of a refuge may be allowed only when the activity is compatible with the mission of the System and purpose of the
individual refuge. Wildlife-dependent activities such as fishing, hunting, environmental education, photography, and wildlife
observation will take precedent over other public use activities. Your cooperation in obeying refuge regulations will help
protect you, the wildlife and wildlife habitat.
|Florida Keys businesses cater to tourists. Please help us support our local Keys businesses by your patronage.
Florida Keys Small Businesses Thank You!
the Florida Keys, Key West