Tortugas Ecological Reserve

Map of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve

The Dry Tortugas are a remote group of islands located at the westernmost extent of the Florida Keys. The marine area in this region contains diverse habitats, including seagrass beds, coral reefs (e.g., patch reefs, fore reefs, intermediate, and deep reefs), and hard-bottom areas. The deep coral reefs of the Tortugas are the crown jewel of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, one of America's last wild ocean places. Clean, clear water and powerful ocean currents fuel the diversity of life in the region. Coral here is healthier and more abundant than anywhere else in the Florida Keys. Because of its isolation, the Tortugas region also has the best water quality in the sanctuary.

The Tortugas region forms a crossroads of major ocean currents, which carry larvae of fish, lobster, and other creatures downstream to the Florida Keys and other coastal nurseries. These same currents bring larvae of fish and other creatures to the Tortugas from both the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. As a result, more than 400 species of reef fish inhabit the region, including all species of grouper. The Tortugas is an important multi-fish spawning site and is considered a source of larvae for multiple species that live within Florida Keys marine habitats. About 40 species of sharks pass through the region.

The Tortugas region owes its very name to the sea turtles once found here in abundance, later decimated by commercial fishing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Green, loggerhead, Kemp's Ridley, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles still travel these waters, protected now from capture.

Special regulations apply here. Learn more about what activities are allowed in this type of zone.

A summary of all sanctuary regulations is available online. For the full text of sanctuary regulations, see 15 CFR 922 Subpart P.