Dry Tortugas, a collection of seven islands located seventy miles west of Key West, Florida, protects the best beaches in the Key West area; the offshore keys are accessible by ferry. These islands were originally used by Spanish merchants and explorers because of their location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Coast. In the 19th century the United States built a military fortress called Fort Jefferson to protect the successful trade route from the many shipwrecks that occurred due to the large amount of coral reefs surrounding the islands. Later, a lighthouse was built to accompany this task. Dry Tortugas is also the home of a 46-square-mile ecological preserve called the Dry Tortugas Research Natural Area. Combined with the adjacent Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, this is the largest no-take marine reserve in the continental U.S. In 2010, 53,890 visitors to Dry Tortugas contributed $4.7 million to the local economy. All coastal national parklands in Florida, contributed $582 million to communities in the state. Coastal national wildlife refuges in Florida contributed an additional $163 million. Nationwide, coastal national parklands alone provided $3.5 billion to local economies while coastal wildlife refuges provided at least $900 million.
Photo: National Park Service