Welcome to Paradise
The Dry Tortugas
Protection of the Environment
The history of ecological protection of the Dry Tortugas began in 1903 when the Carnegie Institute of Washington operated the Marine Biology Laboratory on Loggerhead Key. Until 1939 it was considered to be the foremost tropical biological laboratory in the world. As early as 1908 the Dry Tortugas was designated as the Tortugas Keys Reservation by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt, giving the area some official level of environmental protection. In 1935 its protected status was enhanced when it became, the Fort Jefferson National Monument. Then in 1992 the area became a National Park. In addition, the fact that the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane has benefitted the environment.
Please use caution when piloting the waters near Fort Jefferson. Charts of the area are incorrect. Official charts show water of twenty feet or more where birds regularly stand! Over the years, the area between Bird Key and Garden Key has gradually shoaled, but the charts have not reflected this change. By the year 2000, a spit of land had developed between the two islands, but the shoal has receded slightly since Huricane Wilma. Do not depend on these charts. By all means use charts and GPS for positioning, but you need to have a heavy dose of skepticism while doing so. Never use a single means of navigation, so augment GPS with your depth sounder, but by all means use your eyes. Most of the time, the waters near Fort Jefferson are extremely clear so eyeball piloting is often the best method available.
Anchorages of the Dry Tortugas
All boats anchored in the vicinity of the Dry Tortugas must be within one mile of Fort Jefferson after dark. This means that there are only two viable anchorages in the area. The Garden Key anchorage is east of the fort and most boats drop the hook just off the dock on the southeast side of the fort near the abandon lighthouse. The other, marked on some charts as 'Anchorage Area', is officially named Bird Key Harbor. If you are interested in having a bit of privacy, this is the place to be.
Garden Key Anchorage
Please use caution when using the Garden Key anchorage area. This is the area where shoaling has occurred between Garden Key and Bird Key.
Most boats anchor off the service dock for the fort. This affords easy access to Fort Jerrerson and Garden Key.
Bird Key Anchorage
If you are looking for a secluded anchorage away from other boats, this is the anchorage for you.
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The backcountry of the Keys constitutes a veritible maritime nursery that includes mangroves and seagrass beds that are home to a diversity of juvenile fish, invertebrates and other marine life. The Everglades provides an important flow of water into this ecosystem. Many of the species that spend their juvenile years in the Keys backcountry nursery are the same species that spend their adult years living on the nearby coral reef or swimming in the deep ocean environment.