The United States Congress designated the Cedar Keys Wilderness (map
) in 1972 and it now has a total of 379 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Florida
and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Twelve keys that have been earmarked as protected breeding grounds for colonial birds make up Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. The four outermost islands have been designated as Wilderness: Seahorse Key, North Key, Snake Key, and Bird Key (also known as Deadman's Key). These keys, low islands rising just above the sea, are in fact one of the largest nesting areas in north Florida. Most of the keys were used as fishing camps or villages by ancient cultures thousands of years ago.
A prominent sandy ridge distinguishes Seahorse Key, recalling the island's past life as a huge sand dune (granted this was hundreds of thousands of years ago). The ridge crests at 52 feet above sea level, making it the highest point on Florida's Gulf Coast. The other keys barely make it to 20 feet above the waves. An upland forest of cabbage palm, red bay, live oak, and laurel oak covers the ridge, with an understory of saw palmetto, yaupon, wild olive, prickly pear, eastern red cedar, and Spanish bayonet. Salt marsh and estuarine waters dotted with mangrove dominate the lower elevations.
The most abundant species are white ibis, great egret, double-crested cormorant, snowy egret, tricolored heron, brown pelican, and great blue heron. Reptiles are common as well, including a dense population of cottonmouth snakes. Due to the shortage of fresh water, however, mammals are scarce.
Visitors may use the beaches year round for beachcombing and bird watching, except Seahorse Key. Seahorse Key and a 300 foot buffer zone around the island is closed to all entry from March 1 through June 30 to protect colonial nesting birds.