Garden Key

The Keys Keep Changing

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Storms, waves, and ocean currents constantly move and shape the islands of Dry Tortugas. It is naturally a dynamic place. See how Garden Key, Bush Key, and Long Key (shown from left to right in the photo slider below) have changed in ten years.

Shifting Sands

Re-Keying Dry Tortugas




Grab and slide the handle above.

"Most of these islands are just above sea level."Oron L. Bass, Jr.
Wildlife Biologist Emeritus
Dry Tortugas National Park

Now Add Sea Level Rise

As the climate warms and sea level rises, many sandy beaches and islands are getting smaller—and could even disappear. Yet these keys are important habitat for nesting seabirds and sea turtles.

Nesting Area

Sooty Terns

About 80,000 sooty terns nest on Bush Key. It’s the only nesting colony of sooty terns in North America . Bush Key is only about two feet above sea level, and rising seas coupled with wave action are eroding the island.

Blue sky filled with flying sooty terns.


Seabirds at Risk

Seabirds can’t nest at sea. They nest on beaches. But sea level rise is impacting the Dry Tortugas and reducing the nesting grounds of these seabirds. Swipe to see some of the seabirds that are at risk. (All photos by Judd Patterson)

A brown bird with a dark tail and white top of the head sits on a nest of sticks in the shrubs.

Brown noddy

A large black bird flying, with a long slender tail and broad wings. A bright red throat pouch is inflated under its chin.

Magnificent frigate bird

A large bird floats in front of a brick fort. A grey/brown pelican with yellow on the top of its head. The long pointed beak squashes the throat pouch against its neck.

Brown pelican

a small tern flies overhead showing its white underbelly and black head cap.

Roseate tern

A white goose-sized bird with a yellow to charcoal beak sits on the sandy beach. Dark brown feathers outline the bottom edge of the wings and tail.

Masked booby

What's in a Name?

Tortugas Means Turtles

The Spaniards originally named these islands for the many sea turtles they found there. Now hundreds of years later, sea turtles are threatened or endangered.

A baby sea turtle swims underwater with its fin-shaped front flippers

Sea turtles that hatch here return to these same beaches to nest as adults. Rising seas erode nesting beaches—and reduce the ability of sea turtles to reproduce. What would the Dry Tortugas be without sea turtles?

Journey to the Sea