20 Fun Facts About the Dry Tortugas

20 Fun Facts About the Dry Tortugas

The Dry Tortugas barely register as a dot in the ocean some 67 miles from Key West, but they’re a popular trip from Key West. Here are 18 fun facts that demonstrate what attracts people to visit this remote blip on the radar.



  1. Dry does not refer to their alcohol laws but rather to the fact that early explorers noted their lack of natural springs. Tortuga means turtle, and it’s said that Ponce de Leon who named the atoll took over 100 turtles from the islands.



  1. Turtle meat was used as both currency and food. The defenseless creatures would be stored alive on their backs to keep their meat fresh until it was used.  Thankfully, this practice is long abolished and the turtles are now protected.


  1. Loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles still inhabit the islands, and the females drag themselves ashore to nest. For green and loggerhead turtles, the Dry Tortugas are the most prolific nesting site in the entire Florida Key locale.

 Loggerhead Turtle

Loggerhead Turtle


  1. The Dry Tortugas have nothing to do with the infamous Caribbean pirate island of Tortuga, but they still operated as a pitstop for buccaneers.


  1. Today there are seven islets, but there have been 11 noted in the last 200 years. Some have disappeared only to reappear again later, and Middle Key disappears and reappears regularly.


  1. The Dry Tortugas National Park is 100 square miles, but only 1% is land.


  1. Fort Jefferson lies on Garden Key which is the second largest of the islets in the Dry Tortugas. The fort itself covers 16 acres and was built using over 16 million bricks. Only Fort Monroe and Fort Adams are larger than Fort Jefferson.

 Military Jet over Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson


  1. Even after 30 years of construction, the fort was not completed and remains unfinished.



  1. Fort Jefferson’s walls are 8 feet thick, and there were 520 guns for defense. They were never used.

Fort Jefferson Bricks 


  1. When operational as a fort, up to 2000 people made it their home. As a prison over 2500 prisoners were held Most prisoners were either military deserters or robbers.


  1. The fort’s last role was that of a quarantine station for the marine hospital service.


  1. Infamous prisoners of Fort Jefferson include Dr Samuel Mudd who was a possible conspirator with John Wilkes Booth in the Lincoln assassination (and where the expression "Your name is Mudd" originated).

 Samuel Mudd

Samuel Mudd


  1. Around 80 thousand people visit the Dry Tortugas each year. Apart from the fort, there are some great beaches, rich snorkeling, and many more wildlife spotting opportunities.


  1. The area is prime treasure hunting territory. In 1985 $400 million worth of gold, silver, and treasure was hauled from the wreck of Nuestra Senora de Atocha and Santa Maria, and it’s estimated that there’s a whole lot more just waiting to be found. The Atocha’s sterncastle which includes the captain's cabin and most likely where the rare Muzo emeralds would’ve been is still missing.


  1. As recently as 2011 an emerald ring worth $500 thousand was found on the ocean floor.

Emerald Ring 

Emerald Ring found in 2011


  1. The Dry Tortugas are ornithology heaven, close to 300 different species of bird have been spotted on the islands.


  1. Bush Key is the only regular nesting site of the sooty tern, around 1000 thousand congregate on the island.


  1. The frigate bird, known for its impressive red gular pouch which is inflated to attract females, is a relative newcomer to the islands. Around 100 nests can be observed It’s possible that human disturbance on nearby the Marquesas Keys moved its colony to the Dry Tortugas in 1985.

Frigate Bird 

Frigate Bird


  1. Ernest Hemmingway was once marooned on the Dry Tortugas for 17 days while he and his fellow adventures waited for a storm to pass so they could safely return to Key West. The trip would’ve taken around 10 hours then, today it takes just over 2 hours.



  1. As with all national parks, you can camp on the Dry Tortugas so if you want to experience what it might’ve been like as a castaway marooned on the island – here’s your chance. Camping spaces are very limited so after the ferries leave the feeling of true remoteness is hard to describe.

Dry Tortugas


Enjoyed this thank you

Randy on

Hi Douglas,

You can find more information about camping at the Dry Tortugas park here:


John (Getting Nauti) on

Wbere is the link for camping??
Sounds like a great place.

Douglas Mason on

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