Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is located in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States. The park consists of a small chain of coral islands, comprising 64,701 acres, but only 104 acres of land. The islands are about seventy miles from Key West, Florida and comprise the far western portion of the Florida Keys. The first European explorer to visit the area was Juan Ponce de León, who named the islands the Tortugas after catching 160 sea turtles near them. The term “dry” is used to denote the absence of fresh water on the islands. The area became a key point in controlling the Gulf Coast after the United States bought Florida from Spain in 1822. Construction of a lighthouse began in Garden Key in 1825 and fortification the lighthouse began in 1847. After a replacement lighthouse was half way completed in 1860, the area was used as a military prison, which was shut down in 1874.The establishment of Dry Tortugas National Park began in 1935, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated it as Fort Jefferson National Monument. The area was officially designated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.

The islands in Dry Tortugas National Park extend from west to east and include Loggerhead Key, Hospital Key, and Garden Key, among four others. The eastern, western, and southern boundaries of the park occur along the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, while the northwestern area of the park is bordered by the Tortugas Ecological Reserve. The park holds a tropical marine climate with relatively arid conditions persisting through November to April. The rainy season occurs between the months of May and October, during which time the islands can experience hurricanes. Despite this, the land only received about forty-nine inches of rain each year. Average temperatures range from 90 °F in the summer months to 66 °F in the winter months.

Dry Tortugas National Park holds many species that are unique to the area, due to its sub-tropical or tropical habitat and ecological conditions. The park is home to 299 species of bird, although only seven of these frequently reside there including the brown pelican, sooty tern, mourning dove, and masked booby. The park holds the only nests of sooty and noddy terns in America. Other birds in the park include cattle egrets and many species of falcon.

Dry Tortugas National Park receives about 80,000 visitors each year and offers many attractions including bird watching, which is most often conducted during spring months, especially April. Visitors can view the many fish species with the park’s waters, variety of sunken ships, and the coral reefs around the islands. The main feature of the park is Fort Jefferson, the unfinished fortress that contains over 16 million bricks. Other activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, saltwater fishing, and camping. Dry Tortugas National Park can only be accessed by boat or by seaplane.

Image Caption: Fort Jefferson At The Dry Tortugas. Credit: Photos.com