The Tequesta and Calusa native American tribes arrived in South
Florida approximately 5,000 years ago, but did not expand into the Keys
until 800 A.D. There they remained, living off the land and sea for
another 1,000 years until European explorers discovered the Keys. The
18 century saw changes in ownership as the islands passed from
Spain to Britain, back to Spain and finally to the United States.
Enslavement and European diseases greatly reduced the number of
Native Americans. Survivors fled to Cuba, resulting in the loss of 5,000
years of prehistoric culture in the Keys. Over the next 100 years, hardy
Europeans, Americans, Cubans, and Bahamians, known as conchs,
made their homes in the Keys. They survived by salvaging wrecks,
hunting turtles, sponging, rum-running, perfecting cigars, farming
pineapples and logging the hardwood hammocks.
In 1904, Henry Flagler extended his railroad service from Miami down
to Key West and 20 years later the first ever road-ferry route followed.
During the depression of the 1930’s, the Federal Emergency Relief
Administration (FERA) encouraged a change toward a tourism-based
economy The 1935 Labor Day hurricane swept into the Keys,
destroying the Flagler railroad and killing more than 400 people. By the
1950’s, the Overseas Highway was built, followed by electricity, water
and better roads. In 1980, the new Overseas highway was completed,
spurring a jump in development that significantly increased the
population of the Keys over the next two decades.
Calender of Events
Wildlife viewing is available year round. Visitors have opportunities to
see Key deer; alligators, turtles, birds including great white herons and
pelicans, lizards, and an occasional snake. Other birds migrate
through in October and April.
Spring - Key deer fawns, ospreys, wading birds, gulls and song birds.
Earth Day cleanup late April.
Summer - Key deer fawns and some waterfowl.
Fall - Raptors, wading birds, gulls, and song birds. Guided walks.
September - Beach Cleanup Day
October - Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival, Fall migration and
National Wildlife Refuge Week activities.
Winter - Raptors, wading birds, gulls and songbirds. Guided walks and
programs. Volunteer meetings
Source - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Page 4 of 4
National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys and Key West
Public Use Management
Public access is permitted on almost all of the lands of National Key Deer Refuge, many of the beaches of Key
West National Wildlife Refuge, and the islands in Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. For more
information on Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges, please obtain a copy of the Key West
and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges Backcountry Regulations brochure available at the visitor center.
In recent years though, large increases in the number of people living and vacationing in the Florida Keys has
resulted in conflicts with wildlife and degradation of wildlands. Bylaw, the primary purpose of a National Wildlife
Refuge is managing, protecting and enhancing habitat for wildlife. Public use is permitted so long as it is
compatible with primary purpose of the refuge. Wildlife can best be viewed quietly from a distance. If you observe a
problem on your refuge, please let us know Enjoy your visit to the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
To enhance your visit, the following wildlife dependent activities are permitted:
Hiking on designated trails
Pets on leashes
Bicycling is permitted on refuge trails and fires roads, except where prohibited, to protect pedestrians.
To protect you, other visitors and the environment, the following activities are prohibited:
Weapons are prohibited unless cased and left in vehicles or boats. Discharging of firearms is prohibited in the
county except at authorized ranges. Hunting is not permitted in the Florida Keys.
The use of metal detectors to search for antiquities, artifacts, or treasure is prohibited. Cultural resources belong
to everyone. Removal for personal use prohibits the opportunity for anyone else to experience our cultural heritage.
Horses are prohibited on refuge lands.
Bicycling is prohibited on the Fred Mannillo, Jack Watson and Blue Hole Trails.
Pets are prohibited on refuge managed lands within Key West and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuges.
Pets leave waste that is a nuisance to visitors and may attract fire ants and carry diseases injurious to wildlife.
Seeing- eye dogs for the visually disabled are permitted.
Camping on Refuge lands is prohibited. There are no sanitary facilities and tent poles on beaches can intrude into
Fires on refuge lands are prohibited. Fires can start destructive wildfires or destroy turtle nests.
No poles or pipes (such as beach umbrellas) may be stuck into the ground. These can penetrate turtle nests and
Feeding, injuring, molesting or removing wildlife, or natural items is prohibited. Feeding is harmful to wildlife and
molesting an animal may cause it to attack. Bones are used by small rodents as a food source. Seashells are
used as homes for certain animals such as hermit crabs and help form beaches.
Disturbing, injuring or removing plants and shells is illegal. Plants are food and shelter for wildlife and help
prevent erosion. Some plants are threatened or endangered. Unauthorized removing increases the risk of
Introducing plants or animals onto the refuge is prohibited. Exotic plants and animals compete for resources with
native plans and animals. Introducing additional native wildlife will also cause competition with the local wildlife
populations or may introduce disease or parasites.
Storing equipment or property on refuge lands is prohibited. Abandoned property is unsightly and costs taxpayers
for its removal.
Commercial activity on refuge lands without a refuge permit issued is prohibited.
Organized groups visiting the refuges should make reservations at the refuge visitor center at least two weeks
prior to their visit. Reservations may be made by calling the refuge visitor center at 305/872 0774. Commercial
activities require a month’s notice for consideration and may only be conducted by the issuance of a Special Use
Volunteering— Doing the Keys a FAVOR
There are many things you can do to help preserve and protect the Keys unique natural resources. One way you
can help is by volunteering your time, expertise and services and by volunteering with the Friends And Volunteers
of Refuges (FAVOR)—a nonprofit organization that supports the National Wildlife Refuges of the Florida Keys in
fulfilling refuge management goals. If you would like more information about FAVOR or volunteering, contact:
P0. Box 431840
Big Pine Key, FL 33043-1840
305/872 0774 - Refuge Visitor Center