The experience of complete immersion with wildlife is both profoundly exhilarating and humbling. In 1832 John James Audubon visited the Dry Tortugas and described his experience as such. “ I felt as if the birds would raise me from the ground, so thick were they all around, and so quick the motion of their wings; their cries were indeed deafening… cloud-like masses fly up… in swarms like those of bees in their hives. “ Today you can still witness the masses of sooty terns roosting on Bush Key just as John Audubon did over a hundred and fifty years ago. But don’t stop there! With over 99% of Dry Tortugas National Park a submerged resource, to really experience the wildlife, you need to slip under the surface of the water.
Swim, Snorkel, or Dive – Hundreds of species of marine animals lie just below the surface of the water. There are opportunities to view sharks, sea turtles, coral, lobsters, squid, octopus, tropical reef fish, goliath groupers and even an American crocodile! You can literally swim through thousands of juvenile fish, so think and closely huddled together all you will see is fish and water.
Birding – Dry Tortugas National Park is a world class birding destination, especially during spring migration. Nearly 300 hundred species of birds have been spotted in the Dry Tortugas. With some species like the magnificent frigate bird, and sooty terns, nesting nowhere else in the continental united states, except for the islands of the Dry Tortugas. Imagine 100,000 sooty terns all coming home to roost on a tiny speck of land in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Keep a lookout for pelagic seabirds on your journey out to the park as well. These seabirds spend almost their entire life over the open ocean. With a little luck you may be able to spot such rarities as the elegant White-tailed Tropicbird.
Turtles – When Ponce de Leon discovered the tiny islands at the beginning of the Florida Keys reef system, he noted the abundant marine life, including the seemingly endless supply of sea turtles, and aptly named these islands “Las Tortugas” (the turtles). It turns out that seemingly endless supply was almost pillaged into extinction. Sea turtles are now an endangered species and as such should not be approached, or disturbed. After protecting the sea turtles, their populations are slowly recovering. While visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, if you are lucky enough to spot one of the 5 different sea turtles commonly found in the park, please remember to keep your distance.
Things to keep in mind
Spring and Fall Migration – The Dry Tortugas are a perfect layover for bird migrating to and from south and North America. If you have come for the birds, come during these special times. Spring migration is the preferred season.
Preserve and protect – As a National Park, all wildlife is protected. Although we do allow fishing in some areas of the park, you still must comply with all federal and state fishing rules and regulations.
Did You Know?
The USS Maine would make a brief stop at Fort Jefferson before its ill-fated voyage to Havana. Following the sinking of the Maine, the Dry Tortugas served as an important staging area for U.S. battleships during the Spanish-American War.