Description - Dry Tortugas National Park is a significant unit in the national park system for a variety of reasons. The 64,700-acre site contains historic Fort Jefferson, a militarily and architecturally significant 19th century fort. Other manmade features include the historic Loggerhead Key lighthouse and the historic Garden Key harbor light.
Copyright: National Park Service
Fort Jefferson dominates Garden Key, with Bush Key nearby
In addition to the fabulous scenery including unsurpassed sunrises and sunsets, the animal and birdlife habitats are critically important. As one of America's most isolated and least disturbed habitats, the area provides significant nesting and breeding ground for sea turtles, sooty terns, and the brown noddy. It is also an important resting spot for migrating birds before and after their transGulf flight. The area also features the unique Florida Keys coral reef ecosystem.
The National Park Service promotes the park's importance for educational, recreational and scientific research of marine resources.
- Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, and its legends of pirates and sunken gold. Ft. Jefferson, the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts is a central feature.
Ponce de Leon first discovered the Tortugas in 1513. Abundant sea turtles or "tortugas" provisioned his ships with fresh meat, but there was no fresh water-the tortugas were dry. Since the days of Spanish exploration, the reefs and shoals of the Dry Tortugas have been a serious hazard to navigation and the site of hundreds of shipwrecks.
U.S. military attention was drawn to the keys in the early 1800s due to their strategic location in the Florida Straits. Plans were made for a massive fortress and construction began in 1846, but the fort was never completed. The invention of the rifled cannon made it obsolete. As the military value of Fort Jefferson waned, its pristine reefs, abundant sea life and impressive numbers of birds grew in value. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Fort Jefferson and the surrounding waters as a national monument. The area was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992 to protect both the historical and natural features.
Recreation - Seaplanes and boats bring visitors to this unique national park which permits and promotes snorkeling, scuba diving, camping, fishing, picnicking, viewing historic sites, and viewing fabulous native wildlife and birdlife.
Climate - Southern Florida lies within a subtropical climate. It is usually hot and humid in the summer with brief afternoon thundershowers. It is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit with averages reaching above 83 degrees Fahrenheit (above 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (above 18 Celsius). The average precipitation for the southeast area is more than 60 inches per year. The powerful rays of the sun make it a good idea to wear hats and sunglasses along with using a SPF-15 (or above) sunscreen when planning outdoor activities.
Dry Tortugas National Park lies nearly 70 miles west of Key West. Access is by boat or seaplane.