About the Refuge

kw refuge about

Key West NWR is one of the first refuges established in the United States.  The refuge was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.

Key West National Wildlife Refuge (Key West NWR) is among the first refuges established in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt created the refuge in 1908 as a preserve and breeding ground for colonial nesting birds and other wildlife, during the period when widespread plume hunting was devastating bird populations throughout Florida. Key West NWR is west of Key West, Florida, and accessible only by boat. Key West NWR consists of the Marquesas Keys and 13 other keys distributed across over 375 square miles of open water.  The refuge encompasses 208,308 acres of land and water, with only 1 percent (2,019 acres) being land. Most islands are dominated by mangrove plant communities. Exceptions are the hardwood hammock in the Marquesas Keys and the beaches and dunes there and on Boca Grande and Woman Keys. All islands lack freshwater and native, terrestrial mammals are absent.

Key West NWR provides habitat and protection for federally listed species, including piping plover and roseate terns. The refuge harbors the largest wintering population of piping plovers and the largest colony of white-crowned pigeons in the Florida Keys. It is a haven for over 250 species of birds, including 10 wading bird species that nest in the refuge. Other notable imperiled species include the Miami blue butterfly and sea turtles. Waters within the refuge’s administrative boundaries are important developmental habitat for green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles. More loggerhead and green sea turtle nests are found each year in Key West NWR than any area of the Florida Keys except for the Dry Tortugas.

In 1975, Public Law 93-632 designated all islands in Key West NWR (except Ballast Key, which is privately owned) as a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are managed to minimize human impacts and influences and to let natural processes occur without intervention. The refuge limits human use and influence in order to preserve the quality, character, and integrity of these protected wilderness lands. The Service co-manages the open water and submerged lands owned by the State of Florida through a Management Agreement for Submerged Lands within Boundaries of the Key West and Great White Heron NWRs (Management Agreement). Adopted in 1992, the Management Agreement prohibits the use of personal watercraft, airboats, waterskiing, hovercrafts, and the landing of seaplanes within the administrative boundary of the refuge, and it restricts public access in certain locations in order to protect sensitive wildlife resources.