The United States Congress designated the Passage Key Wilderness (map
) in 1970 and it now has a total of 36 acres
(36.37 acres, technically).
All of this wilderness is located in Florida
and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
A violent hurricane swept through this area in 1920, transforming Passage Key, a mangrove island containing a freshwater lake, into a meandering, slightly vegetated sandbar. One of three refuges comprising the Tampa Bay Refuges, Passage Key stands at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where it faces the full force of storms off the Gulf of Mexico. In the last few years, erosion has erased most of the island. At low tide, small portions of the island will still occasionally rise above the waterline.
This one island represented Tampa Bay's last remaining nesting site for laughing gulls, black skimmers, and royal terns. However, with no more land being above water on a regular basis, there is no more bird breeding on the island. Easily accessible by boat from the Tampa/Saint Petersburg Metropolitan sprawl, Passage Key has been inundated with humans to the point where the island had to be closed to all visitation. You must observe the key from a distance of at least 200 feet.