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Cedar Keys
National Wildlife Refuge

16450 NW 31 Place
Chiefland, FL   32626
E-mail: lowersuwanee@fws.gov
Phone Number: 352-493-0238
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Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is an important rookery for many species of wading and water birds such as these ibis, egrets and herons.
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Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge

Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover to protect a breeding ground for colonial nesting migratory birds during a time when market hunters, desiring feathers for the ladies' apparel industry, were slaughtering millions of birds.

Today, the threat is much different - coastal islands are being rapidly developed and habitat is lost forever. Congress strenghtened the refuge in 1972 when it designated four of the original refuge islands as National Wilderness Areas under the Wilderness Act. Presently, the refuge is comprised of 13 islands ranging in size from 1 to 120 acres and totaling 762 acres.

The most recent addition to the refuge was Atsena Otie Key, which was purchased in 1997 by Florida's Suwannee River Water Management District and managed as part of the refuge through a partnership agreement.

Getting There . . .
The refuge is located on the Gulf of Mexico in Levy County, along the southern edge of Florida's Big Bend Region. The islands that make up the refuge surround the town of Cedar Key, which is a quaint coastal village that blends old time commercial fishing with sport fishing and nature-based tourism. The nearest large city is Gainesville, home for the University of Florida. From Gainesville, travel southwest on State Road 24 and Cedar Key is located where the road terminates at the Gulf of Mexico. All the refuge islands are only reachable by boat.

There is no office or staff for Cedar Keys Refuge, personnel from Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, located on County Road 347, 17 miles north of Cedar Key, administer Cedar Keys refuge.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge is a closely guarded treasure with its importance as a wildlife sanctuary valued above its role as a recreational resource. The 13 coastal islands provide resting, feeding, nesting and breeding grounds for more than 20,000 elegant wading birds. Recent data shows approximately 10,000 white ibis: great, cattle, and snowy egrets; and great blue, little blue, black-crowned night, yellow-crowned night and tri-colored herons, along with cormorants and brown pelicans nest on Seahorse Key annually. Snake Key has not been used for nesting since late 1960's.

An interesting symbiotic relationship exists between the nestlings and the cottonmouths that live on Seahorse Key . The snakes, appearing white because of the bird droppings that coat their skin as they wait for young to drop from their nests, keep predators from approaching the nests.

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More than two thousand years ago, before Europeans arrived on this continent and pioneers ventured into the depths of Florida, archaic and woodland cultures utilized the rich estuarine waters in this area now known as Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. Their mounds and middens dot the shorelines and coastal islands within the refuge and down the coast.

A U.S. Army supply depot and hospital were established on Atsena Otie in1839, during the Second Seminole War, changing the name to Depot Key. A year later, Seahorse Key was used as a detention camp for Seminole prisoners. Not until 1854 was the lighthouse constructed on the highest Pleistocene dune in the Gulf.

In the 1860's, Eberhard Faber Pencil Company brought industry to the incorporated town of Atsena Otie; census reported 297 residents. And Seahorse Key lighthouse shone the way for ships of commerce.

From 1861-1864 the area was occupied by the Union Army, but prospered immediately after the Civil War. Due to growth in Tampa and depletion of cedars trees, local industry declined in the 1890's. The final blow to the island town was the hurricane of 1896. Most families moved to the Way Key, now Cedar Key; those who remained lived off fishing, oystering and farming.

Historically, up to 200,000 birds nested on Snake and Seahorse keys. In April of 1929, Cedar Keys Refuge was established to protect colonial birds during a time when market hunters, desiring feathers for the ladies apparel industry, were slaughtering millions of birds.

Since 1952, the University of Florida has used the lighthouse as a marine research center.

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    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Environmental Education
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
The refuge ranks as one of the largest nesting areas in north Florida for colonial birds. Nesting species include white ibis, brown pelican, great, cattle and snowy egrets; great blue, little blue, tri-colored, and night herons; and the double-crested cormorant. Osprey are common nesters and bald eagles nest on the refuge as well. Cedar Keys is one of the few places on the Gulf of Mexico where magnificent frigatebirds can commonly be seen soaring over the islands during the summer and fall months. A few roseate spoonbills also spend their summers here.

The forested habitat that occurs on the uplands includes live oak, cabbage palm, redbay, eastern red cedar, and laurel oak. The understory plants include cherry laurel, saw palmetto, yaupon,, wild olive, prickly pear, and Spanish bayonet. These maritime forests are important to song birds especially as a first stop, resting and feeding place during their spring migration. The lower elevations of the islands, comprising almost 40 percent of the total acreage, are subject to frequent tidal flooding and are dominated by salt marsh with patches of mangrove trees and sandy beaches. An abundance of shorebirds use the beach areas for feeding and resting while the long-legged wading birds that nest on the refuge prefer the marsh areas.