Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon came upon this group of eight South Florida islands in 1513 and named them for the numerous turtles, or tortugas, nesting there. Since turtles could be kept alive on ships for months, they were a favorite source of fresh meat for sailors, and, by the late 1800’s, the turtle population on the islands was almost completely wiped out.
Yet now that the Dry Tortugas are a national park, the turtles are back and bigger than ever. Loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks, the eight-foot giants of the turtle world, can now be found nesting on the islands.
Most people arrive in the Tortugas these days on a one-day excursion from Key West. Take the high-speed ferry some 70 miles, snorkel the protected reefs and tour Fort Jefferson, a former Civil War fort that stands atop the island of Garden Key. Primitive camping is available on the island. Simply pick up the ferry the next day to return to Key West.
Dry Tortugas National Park
P.O. Box 6208