Dry Tortugas

Key West

Where is the park?

Dry Tortugas is located 70 miles west of Key West. This national park is only accessible by boat or seaplane.
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The Dry Tortugas National Park shields a seven-key archipelago. The seven keys include Garden, Loggerhead, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle. There is a sandbar land bridge that connects the Garden the Garden Key to the Bush Key. The Loggerhead Key is the largest island.

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  • Roughly 80,000 visitors per year
  • The national park protects the southwest tip of South Florida's coral reef which is the 3rd largest coral reef system
  • 99% of the park is submerged under sparkling water


Dry Tortugas was discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. After sighting an abundance of sea turtles he named the island Las Tortugas which is Spanish for "the turtles". After later exploration they realized there was no fresh water on the island so they renamed it Dry Tortugas because that was important for seafarers to know. It was originally discovered as one of the most strategic U. S. harbor.

Fun Facts

  • You can bird watch and see a diverse assortment of species that are special to the island
  • During the day you can snorkel, hike, fish, or soak in the sun. In the evening you can camp
  • The island is known for many shipwrecks
  • Fort Jefferson- 1) The largest masonry in the Americas, 2) It is composed of 16 million bricks, 3) It was used mostly during the Civil War, 4) Served as a prison after the Civil War

Geologic History

The island was formed at a low elevation on the surface of a coral reef. The hexagonal island is made of carbonate sands and mud.


Limestone underlies all the keys. The Key Largo Limestone is a special limestone that underlies the national park. Key Large Limestone is fossilized coral reefs that form bedrocks under the sand banks. In the sand bars you can find fossilized shells and other mollusks.
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Exposed Key Largo Limestone

Natural Resources

  • Sea grass beds
  • Fisheries
  • Sea turtle nesting
  • Bird nesting
  • Coral reef

Geological Processes

The coral reef kept on growing and growing. As parts of the reef grew to far out of the water those parts began to die. The dead coral reed then filled with drifting sediments and formed the islands. The islands formed back before Ponce de Leon discovered it in 1513.


Winter: The Dry Season

  • Extends from November to mid-May
  • Temperatures ranging between 60°F to 70°F
  • Windier with rougher seas
  • Not many storms

Summer: The Wet Season

  • Extends from mid-May to November
  • Average temperatures ranging up to 90°F
  • Majority of the average rainfall falls
  • Thunder storms are common but mostly during the day


  • Officially begins June 1st and ends November 30th
  • The park is located in within one of the most active locations in the U. S.


Sea Grass is the most common vegetation found on the island. There is 125 plant species and 81(65%) of the species are exotic. Most of these come from distant seed displacement. Cereus is one of the exotic species. The century plant is nonnative as well.


Dry Tortugas wildlife consists of turtles, birds, coral reefs, crocodiles, nurse sharks, and reef fish. The nurse sharks are generally not a problem with visitors and crocodile sightings are typically rare.

Safety and Hazards

There is not much pollution because they have a lot of laws and regulations as well as pollution control. Fires are not common because the island is surrounded by water. The biggest danger is hurricanes and tropical storms.
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