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 habitat.   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.

Visitor Center/Headquarters

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.
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National Wildlife Refuges in the Florida Keys and Key West