Key West Wildlife Refuge

2014 Update

For the first time in years, weather conditions were sufficient to reach the foraging grounds west of the Marquesas and we were able to conduct research on adult green sea turtles! We captured a total of 12 green turtles including three adult males, five adult females and four subadults. We also captured four subadult loggerheads. Green turtles captured on the foraging ground ranged in straight carapace length (SCL) from 64.4 – 100.7 cm with a mean of 91.0 cm. Genetic samples were taken and are currently being processed.



This project was funded in part by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program (Grant #14-030R). The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at







Key West National Wildlife Refuge Sea Turtle Project

The Key West National Wildlife Refuge (KWNWR) is the Keys oldest refuge and was established in 1908 by an Executive Order signed by Theodore Roosevelt.  The refuge was created to curtail the wholesale slaughter of egrets, herons, and other wading birds used by milliners in the lucrative feather trade of the early 1900’s.  It is one of four refuges that make up the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge System.

The KWNWR encompasses 521 square kilometers of open water and over 2000 acres of land including the Marquesas and 13 other Keys.  The refuge contains a portion of the United States only continental coral reef tract as well as numerous coral patch reefs, extensive sea grass beds and mixed hardbottom/sponge habitat.  These protected areas, including the numerous keys within the refuge, provide important nesting and foraging habitat for endangered and threatened sea turtles.

Nesting by loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles have been documented within the refuge.  Loggerhead nests have been found on Boca Grande Key, Woman Key and six islands in the Marquesas Keys complex.  Green turtles nest exclusively, albeit in low numbers, on Boca Grande Key and one island (Long Beach) in the Marquesas Keys.  Hawksbill turtles typically nest in more tropical regions of the Caribbean Basin, and nesting is rare in the continental United States.  However, one nest was recorded in the KWNWR on Boca Grande Key in 1989.

The KWNWR appeared to contain important foraging habitat for sea turtles, yet until recently we knew next to nothing about the turtles found in the refuge’s waters.  In the past few years, post-nesting adult green turtles have been satellite tracked to the KWNWR from nesting beaches in East-Central Florida (Schroeder et al. 1996), the Florida Panhandle (Nicholas, pers. comm.) and the Yucatan Peninsula (Garduňo et al. 2000).  This suggested that the refuge held the first known foraging grounds for adult green turtles in the contiguous United States.  Informal reports from Key West fishermen have seemingly bolstered this claim.  However, outside of stranding and nesting records, there was very little data on sea turtles in the KWNWR.  This noticeable lack of data was the impetus for our demographic study.