Loggerhead Key was named for the abundance of loggerhead sea turtles in the area (the Dry Tortugas support the largest green and loggerhead turtle nesting grounds in the Florida Keys). Mariners were often attracted to the area, looking for the natural food source that the turtles provided. However, the shoals and reefs here proved dangerous. Proximity to the nearby shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico, make the area a natural “ship trap,” and more than 250 shipwrecks have been documented in the waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas.
When the United States acquired Florida from Spain, they were immediately interested in constructing a lighthouse in the tortugas, to protect mariners in the areas. The original lighthouse built was on Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson. It was later replaced by the current iron light that sits on the top of Fort Jefferson. Iron was used because bricks could shatter if hit by enemy fire, and send debris flying into the fort.
Unfortunately, it proved to be too short, too dim and too far from other reefs, so construction began on a taller lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. This light could be seen 53 miles away, and in the 1930s, it was the brightest light in North America.
Significant scientific research was conducted on Loggerhead Key, by the Laboratory for Marine Ecology, which was operated by the Carnegie Institute. The lab studied the reefs and waters of the tortugas from 1905-1939. They took the first underwater black and white, and color photography, and performed the first heart transplant…..on a nurse shark! The lab was destroyed by hurricanes over the years, but there is still a monument to the it’s founder on Loggerhead Key.
The lighthouse was maintained by light keepers through World War II, when the duty was transferred to the US Coast Guard. A single light keeper would stay on site for six weeks, and then have a three weeks off ashore. It’s noted that their main complaints were..lack of women, having to cook for themselves and boredom from isolation. In 1982, the light was fully automated, and all Coast Guard staff left the island.
We have been enjoying the view of the lighthouse, flanked by palm trees, while anchored here.
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”