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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.

Dry Tortugas Anchorage Map

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.

The Florida Keys consists of a cluster of over 1,500 islands off the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and extend south and west to the Dry Tortugas. The islands sit on a shallow bank of coral and sand that separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Straits of Florida. This bank is the exposed part of a coral reef system that began forming over 100,000 years ago and have become fossilized as sea levels varied with several recent ice ages.