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Great White Heron
National Wildlife Refuge

28950 Watson Boulevard
Big Pine Key, FL   33043
E-mail: keydeer@fws.gov
Phone Number: 305-872-0774
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Bald eagles, Great White Herons, and ospreys inhabit the Great White Heron NWR.
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Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge

Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1938 as a haven for great white herons, migratory birds, and other wildlife. The refuge is located in the lower Florida Keys and consists of almost 200,000 acres of open water and islands that are north of the primary Keys from Marathon to Key West. The islands account for approximately 7,600 acres and are primarily mangroves with some of the larger islands containing pine rockland and tropical hardwood hammock habitats. This vast wilderness area, known locally as the “backcountry,� provides critical nesting, feeding, and resting areas for more than 250 species of birds.

Great white herons are a white color-phase of great blue herons and are only found in the Florida Keys. The refuge was created to protect great white herons from extinction since the population was decimated by the demand for feathered hats. Protection of great white herons was successful, and these magnificent powder-white birds can be observed feeding on tidal-flats around hundreds of backcountry islands each dawn and dusk.

Three species of sea turtles rely on the backcountry for feeding and nesting. Endangered Green sea turtles and threatened Loggerhead sea turtles are the two documented species that successfully nest in the refuge. Hawksbill sea turtles are known to feed in seagrass beds throughout the refuge, but nesting has not been observed.

Getting There . . .
Great White Heron NWR is accessible only by boat. However, the refuge is administered as part of the National Key Deer Refuge headquartered on Big Pine Key, which is 100- miles south of Miami. The visitor center is located ¼-mile north of the traffic light on Key Deer Boulevard in the Big Pine Key Shopping Plaza.

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Management Activities
Great White Heron NWR focuses management programs on maintaining regional biodiversity that is necessary to sustain diverse assemblages of flora and fauna. Primary programs include population monitoring, sea turtle nesting surveys, and invasive exotic plant control.

Population monitoring consists of conducting nesting and spot surveys in order to investigate increasing or decreasing population trends. Monitoring focuses on threatened and endangered species such as piping plover and bald eagle as well as regionally significant species such as great white heron, reddish egret and white-crowned pigeon. Birds in the refuge are doing well as evidenced by stable or increasing populations and nest numbers.

Sea turtle nests are surveyed each year to track nesting and reproduction of green and loggerhead sea turtles. There are very few beaches in the refuge suitable for sea turtle nesting, thus there are typically less than ten nests found each year. Green sea turtles are once again nesting in the refuge which is a positive sign since green sea turtles had not been documented in several years. The low number of nests makes it difficult to determine nesting trends, but activity appears to be stable.

Control of invasive exotic vegetation is an important management activity. The colonization of islands by exotic plants such as Australian Pine and Brazilian Pepper drastically impedes wildlife use. Exotic species do not provide suitable nesting or food resources, and these species exclude important native plant species. Exotic plant control is working well on the refuge and is keeping habitats more viable for wildlife.