One of the more sought out excursions for our boats is Egmont Key. It is only reachable by boat or ferry, so it is less populated than many tourist areas in the Tampa area and it is also very much a sanctuary for wildlife observers. Egmont Key is located at the entrance to Tampa Bay between Fort Desoto and Shell Island on the north and Anna Marie Island on the south. Just a quick boat ride from either side in generally calm waters, it is a must do destination.
Egmont may well be one of the best snorkeling areas also, you can observe the ruins of the old fort and some of the fading military history of the island under water. The ruins create man-made reef structure for marine life which makes the snorkeling very rewarding. There are also many gopher tortoises on the key, named for their underground burrows, they are protected here. Visitors are not to disturb them in any way. Also birds, the laughing gulls which can swarm in and cover the island at times and lots of terns during the summer months are here.
The tangled jungle growth has overgrown much of the island, making a lot of the ruins less visible and covering up the footprints of man on this once functioning island used primarily by the military. Before the military installations which comprise all of the ruins here, the early Indians most likely used the island for fishing and crabbing. Later the fort was established to protect the inlet of Tampa Bay – for the Spanish American war, the Civil War, and both World Wars. It also served as an internment camp for Seminole Indians being deported to Oklahoma and Arkansas reservations. The fort was never an active base but rather in case it was needed, from gun installations along the north and south ends of the islands, to the housing of mines to run across the entrances to Tampa Bay in case of German or Japanese attacks, and in the 1860’s during the Civil War it was used by the Union to operate the Gulf Coast Blockade.
Egmont Key was named after John Perceval, the Earl of Egmont in 1763. When surveyed in the 1870’s, the island was nearly twice the size it is today, over 550 acres, today only a little over 250 acres. Today it is part of the Florida State Park system and on the southern tip is the Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge. There is an active lighthouse still operating on the northern end of the island. Once moved and rebuilt due to hurricane damage, it is one of the oldest structures in the Tampa area still serving its original purpose.
Activities include sunbathing, swimming, shelling, boating, picnicking, snorkeling, touring the fort, and wildlife viewing. Amenities include beaches, nature trails, and picnic tables. Food, water, and restrooms are not available in the park. No alcoholic beverages or pets of any kind are permitted on the island.
The park is open from 8:00 am until sundown year round.
The most predominant habitat in Egmont Key is the coastal berm. These berms formed by storm-deposited sand are characterized by a mixture of tropical herbs, shrubs, and trees. At Egmont Key, this community is dominated by cabbage palm. Other plants associated with this habitat type are strangler fig, saw palmetto, sea grape, and Florida privet. It is not uncommon to see Florida box turtles and gopher tortoise roaming and making burrows around this type of habitat in Egmont Key.” (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Beach dunes are formed by wind and wave action. These dunes are characterized by low-growing pioneer plants adapted to nutrient-poor soils and unstable environments. Sea oats, sand spur, railroad vine, and hairy beach sunflower are common plants of this community. Over 600 brown pelicans nest in this habitat type in Egmont Key each summer, preferably on the higher vegetation that grows on the dunes.” (US Fish and Wildlife Service)
Whether you are looking for some less densely populated beach and water to hang out in or want to do some historical snorkeling or just want to observe some wildlife on a small island, Egmont is a great Florida destination. We hope you find your way to Egmont Key on your visit to Florida soon.