Discover the World’s Third-Longest Living Coral Reef
Located in southern Florida, Biscayne National Park is 95 percent water. Sail its immaculate blue-green bay, explore the world’s third-longest living coral reef, and get a glimpse of one-of-kind scenery above and below the surface.
Activities in Biscayne National Park
With only one mile of paved roadway, most of the activities in the park are done on the water. Boat tours are a great way to explore the coral islands. For those without boats, the park’s concessionaire offers guided boat tours for a fee. Boat tours allow visitors to check out living coral reefs and explore the pristine northernmost keys. If boating on your own, it important to be aware of the tide — most of the park’s waters are very shallow.
Canoeing and kayaking are popular ways to explore the park’s canals, lagoons, and channels. Experienced sportsmen can take on the 7-mile expanse to Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key. It’s easy to glimpse the park’s wildlife while exploring Shallow Jones Lagoon — sharks, rays, jellyfish, and wading birds all call this area home. Canoes and kayaks also give visitors access to Hurricane Creek. Once used as a place to tie down boats during large storms, the creek now offers spectacular snorkeling opportunities. Tiny lobsters scurry over sea sponges, and crabs peek out from their shells.
Guided canoe and kayak adventures are provided by the park during the winter. Many of these guided tours are conducted free of charge. The Convoy Point Canoe Trip, suitable for beginners, takes visitors through a tunnel of red mangroves. There are plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing on this tour: manatees, birds, and fish are commonly sighted.
Visiting Biscayne National Park
The park is open year-round. The water portion of the park is always open, but the visitor center operates daily during normal business hours. Visitors should remember that the only way to get around the park is by boat, so trips should be planned carefully.
Camping is available on only two of the park’s islands: Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key. The islands are only accessible by boat. Camping fees are $15 a night. Prices vary depending on group size and if visitors are harboring a boat. RV camping is not allowed in the park. Other than campsites, lodging does not exist in the park. The nearest lodging can be found in the nearby cities of Homestead or Florida City.
Wildlife in Biscayne National Park
There are six species of sea turtles that live in the U.S., and all of them are listed as threatened or endangered. The park puts forth a lot of effort to protect sea turtles — 90 percent of all U.S. loggerhead turtles and all of the U.S. green turtles nest in Florida.
There are many factors contributing to the decline of sea turtles. Every day, debris is washed up on the beach shores, making it hard for the turtles to find suitable nesting grounds. Because of this, park rangers clean the beaches daily. Raccoons are another threat to sea turtles. Raccoons, numerous and aggressive in nature, are the sea turtles’ number one predator. The park monitors the nests daily, racing to enclose the nests with wire mesh before the raccoons find them. Today, the park proudly boasts 100 percent sea turtle protection rates.
History of Biscayne National Park
Biscayne Bay’s journey to preservation was not an easy feat. It took nearly 40 years to win the fight to protect these ancient and pristine coral reef islands. With the end of World War II, Americans experienced newfound prosperity, and vacationing became the new American pastime. By the 1950s, Florida tourism was booming, and property values were skyrocketing.
When most people think of where the Florida Keys begin, they think of Key Largo, but real estate investors and developers saw beyond that. They saw the northernmost keys as a jackpot, an untouched treasure chest just waiting to be opened. Plans were made full of buildings, roads, and bridges, and it was unanimously decided to create a new city — the City of Islandia. With the new city, plans were made to construct a major industrial seaport.
But protesters, while few, were loud. They had a different plan for the area: a national park that would preserve and protect the islands, the bay to the west, and the reefs to the east. Herbert W. Hoover, Jr., the vacuum cleaner magnate, famously gave Washington legislators blimp rides around the area, in hopes that once people saw how beautiful the area was, they too would want to preserve it. It took a lot of blimp rides — not to mention a few compromises — but Biscayne Bay National Monument was finally established in 1968. The area wouldn’t become a national park until 1980.
Other key dates in Biscayne National Park’s history:
- 1862 – Elliott Key and other islands are established under the Homestead Act; the law gives settlers free land if they are willing to stay and farm on it for five years.
- 1870 – The ship Arratoon Apcar sinks near Fowey Rocks on its way to Havana. Remnants of the shipwreck can be seen today.
- 1970 – Lancelot Jones, the owner of most of the Biscayne area, sells his share of the land to the National Park Service.
- 1992 – Hurricane Andrew damages parts of the park and its fragile coral reefs.