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Florida Keys Wilderness

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A man dressed in blue, standing knee-deep in the crystal clear water of the flats, fly fishing.
Library image #589: Flats fishing

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Florida Keys Wilderness (map) in 1975 and it now has a total of 6,197 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Florida and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Description

Florida Keys Wilderness consists of many islands off shore of the main chain of non-Wilderness Keys that are bisected by US 1. These islands are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service as part of National Key Deer Refuge, Key West National Wildlife Refuge, and Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge. They protect a seemingly endless expanse of sea, sky, and islands between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean south of Florida's southern mainland coast. Although beaches exist on some of the islands, tangles of mangroves make access to most islands difficult. Furthermore, most of the Wilderness islands are closed to public access to protect the sensitive wildlife resources. However, portions of Boca Grande, Woman, and the Marquesas Keys are open to wildlife-dependent recreations uses by the public.

These Wilderness islands are characterized by flat topography which, at points, only rises to 6-10 feet above sea level. Climate, here, is characterized as Tropical-Maritime with a mean annual temperature of about 77 degrees F. The Florida Keys experience the highest level of solar radiation in the State of Florida. The southern latitude and maritime influences contribute to minimal seasonal variation. The coldest average monthly temperature, 68.9 degrees F, occurs during January and the warmest mean monthly temperature, 83.8 degrees F, occurs in August. Rainfall is seasonal with wet periods extending from May through October and annual precipitation totals about 39 inches. Common wildlife on the islands includes the state-listed white-crowned pigeon, the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Key deer, iguana, loggerhead turtle, Atlantic green turtle, Atlantic hawksbill turtle, brown pelican, piping plover, roseate tern, Miami blue butterfly, reddish egret, and great white heron. Common vegetation includes black, white, and red mangrove, slash pines, Gumbo-limbo, Florida butterfly orchid, and yellowheart trees.

The Wilderness area consists of all the Marquesas Keys; Mooney Harbor Key; all the Gull Keys; Boca Grande Key; Woman Key; Man Key; Little Mullet Key; Big Mullet Key; Cottrell Key; Archer Key; Mule Key; Barracouta Keys; Joe Ingram Key; Crawfish Key; Sand Key; Rock Key; Eastern Dry Rocks; all the keys west of Key West; Crane Key; Little Swash Keys; Upper Harbor Key; Big Spanish Key; Little Spanish Key; Crawl Key; Little Pine Key Mangrove; Water Key Mangroves; Water Key; Little Pine Key; Horseshoe Keys; West Bahia Honda Key; Mayo Key; Annette Key; Howe Key; Water Keys islands in Sections 14, 15, 23, and 26; Cutoe Key islands in Sections 19, 20, and 21; Johnson Keys islands in Sections 19, 29, 30, and 32; and parts of Raccoon Key.

Access to these islands (above mean high tide) are permitted only with a special use permit, however, you are welcome to use the surrounding waters for boating, fishing and other permitted recreational purposes. Some islands have special buffer zones, regulations regarding use of motors, or speed zones.

Planning to Visit the Florida Keys Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Florida Keys Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.