Egmont National Wildlife Refuge

This barrier island refuge is approximately 350 acres and was established to provide nesting, feeding, and resting habitat for brown pelicans and other migratory birds. Egmont Key had a colorful military/historical past. Ft. Dade was built is 1882 with temporary gun batteries to protect Tampa at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The Spanish fleet never came, but over 70 buildings were built between 1899 and 1916 and a small town with 300 residents existed. Today, the combined resources of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Park Service provide better protection for Egmont Key and its wildlife and a more enjoyable experience for the visitor.

Egmont Key has unique natural and cultural histories that have made the island a valuable resource since the time settlers first arrived in Florida. Named in honor of John Perceval, the second Earl of Egmont and member of the Irish House of Commons in 1763, Egmont Key saw Spanish conquistadors and nuclear submarines pass its shores as they entered Tampa Bay.

In the 1830s, as shipping increased, so did the number of ships that were grounded on the numerous sandbars around Egmont Key. On March 3, 1847, Congress authorized funds to construct a lighthouse on Egmont. The construction was completed in May 1848. When completed it was the only lighthouse between St. Marks and Key West. When the Great Hurricane of 1848 struck September 23rd and 25th, tides 15 feet above normal washed over the island and damaged the light. Another storm in 1852 did additional damage and prompted Congress to appropriate funds to rebuild the lighthouse and light keeper's residence.

At the end of the third Seminole War in 1854, Egmont Key was used by the U.S. Army to detain Seminole prisoners until they could be transported to Arkansas.

In 1858 the lighthouse was reconstructed to "withstand any storm." The new tower was 87 feet high with an Argard kerosene lamp and fixed Fresnel lens. Confederate troops occupied the island when the Civil War began. Realizing that they could not defend their position, the Confederates evacuated Egmont, taking with them the Fresnel lens from the tower. The Union navy used Egmont to operate their Gulf Coast blockade of the Confederacy. In 1864, Union troops raided Tampa in an unsuccessful effort to locate the missing lens. The lighthouse returned to manual operation in 1866 at the end of the war. After the Civil War, the light keeper, his assistant, and their families were the principal residents of the island from 1866 to 1898.

When the Spanish-American War was imminent, citizens of Tampa demanded the Bay be protected from attack so Fort Dade was established on Egmont Key. The Spanish fleet never came; however, some 70 buildings were built at a cost of $494,427 as part of a coastal defense plan. When construction was completed in 1916, Fort Dade was a small city of 300 residents with electricity, telephones, movie theater, bowling alley, tennis courts, hospital and jail among other services. The Fort was deactivated in 1923.

The Tampa Bay Pilots Association, established in 1886, set up operations on the island in 1926. When ships approach Tampa Bay, a pilot boards the vessel in the main channel and directs the ship to the docks. As the vessel leaves the dock the pilot guides it out and returns to Egmont Key on one of the pilot boats. The work of the pilots helps to protect the Bay from environmental damage that would result from groundings and/or collisions.

In 1939, the Lighthouse Service was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has maintained the light as well as radio guidance equipment. The Key was designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1974, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Due to staffing limitations and increased public visits, the Wildlife Service was unable to protect the resources on its own. When the Coast Guard automated the light, Coast Guard personnel were reassigned. The Florida Park Service began operations at Egmont Key on October 1, 1989, as part of a co-management agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Endangered And Threatened Species:
Arctic Peregrine Falcon, Wood Stork, West Indian Manatee, Loggerhead Sea Turtles

Other Wildlife Species:
Gopher tortoise, Florida box turtle, Key West and green anole, black snake, and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake. Small numbers of lesser scaup, ring-necked ducks, blue winged teal, mallards, and red breasted mergansers are occasionally seen off the coast of Egmont Key. Brown pelicans and laughing gulls are common.

Marsh and water birds include: Cormorants, great blue herons, little blue herons, tri-colored herons, snowy and great egrets, yellow-crowned night herons and white ibis. Numerous shorebird species use the island shorelines for feeding and resting and include: black skimmers, sanderlings, black-bellied plover, willets, laughing gulls, royal terns, oystercatchers, ruddy turnstones, short-billed dowitchers, dunlins, and herring and greater black backed gulls. A variety of neo tropical migrants can be observed in the spring and fall.

Saltwater fish species include: snook, cobia, grouper, speckled trout, redfish, and tarpon.

Opportunities For Public Use
The refuge is accessible only by boat. Guided trips to the island are offered from several St. Petersburg tour companies. Birding, fishing, shelling, sunbathing, photography, boating, and swimming are all traditional public uses.

The park is open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset. For additional information, contact:

Egmont Key State Park
4905 34th Street South, Box 5000
St. Petersburg, FL 33711
(727) 893-2627
VMF channels 16 or 80

The Refuge System
Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge is one of over 500 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge system. This system, encompassing over ninety million acres, is a network of lands and waters managed specifically for wildlife. The refuge system is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior. In addition to the refuge system, the Service is responsible for the endangered species program, certain marine mammals and migratory birds, as well as other wildlife programs.

This information provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Refuge Manager
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive
Crystal River, FL 34429
(352) 563-2088

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 20 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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