On May 9th, we traveled to the Dry Tortugas National Park on a Fast Catamaran from Key West. The weather was great and I survived the trip each way without suffering sea sickness.
The Dry Tortugas are a set of 7 small, flat, islands composed of coral reefs and sand without fresh water located some 70 miles west of Key West.
The name “Tortugas”, from Spanish for turtle, reflects the abundance of sea turtles that nest on the islands. Loggerhead, Green, Leatherbacks and Hawksbill turtles are often seen in the waters around the islands.
The Tortugas are located adjacent to a major shipping channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean with the Atlantic Ocean. To protect the deep water harbor at Garden Key and serve as “the Guardian of the Gulf”, the United States started construction of Fort Jefferson in 1846. The harbor was used by naval vessels to patrol the channel. Construction continued until 1875 but was never fully completed.
Covering the 10 acres of Garden Key, Fort Jefferson is the largest of the series of coastal forts constructed from Maine to California. Sixteen million bricks were used in the construction. The bricks came from Mobile until the start of the civil war, then from Maine. The fort was designed to house 600 guns of which 125 could be aimed at a common target.
The fort was used by Union warships to blockade Southern shipping and also as a prison during the Civil War. Dr Samuel Mudd, the MD that set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after Lincoln’s assassination was incarcerated here 4 years from 1865 to 1869.
The islands are also the nesting area of numerous seabirds.