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National Wildlife Refuges Protect Wildlife and Important Habitats

The Florida Keys and the Everglades National Park are home to 5 National Wildlife Refuges (NWR).

The purpose of these wildlife conservation areas is to protect not just the animals, but their natural habitat.

Man's encroachment on nature has done away with much of the natural Florida, and this has resulted in numerous threatened, endangered, and in some cases, even extinct species.

Especially in a region where land is at a premium, providing a safe habitat has been the key to curbing the eradication of different species.

Left unhindered by man, these endangered species have been able to not only slowly regrow in numbers, but in some cases flourish.

Florida Wildlife Sanctuary Locations

Starting from north and west is the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Located about 20 miles east of Naples it dips into the northwest portion of Everglades National Park.

Traveling east across the Florida peninsula to Key Largo, you then turn north and travel a few miles until you come to Crocodile Lake Refuge.

Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge Sign

Sign For Crocodile Lake Refuge

Traveling south from Key Largo, and beginning just north of Marathon then extending almost to Key West is The Great White Heron Refuge. This is accessible by boat only, and is in the Gulf of Mexico - Florida Bay area.

South of Marathon Key at Bahia Honda is the National Key Deer Refuge, home to the popular Florida Keys attraction the Blue Hole. This Refuge also manages The Great White Heron Refuge and the Crocodile Lake Refuge.

Finally, at the end of the chain of islands is the Key West Refuge.

Geographical Composition
Of The Florida Refuges

The total area of the 4 Refuges that are positioned within the Florida Keys is over 23,000 acres of land and over 349,000 acres of water.

When you add in the land from the 5th wildlife sanctuary, the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, you total some 49,400 acres of land.

The Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge is larger than the combined land mass of the 4 in the Keys because it supports the large Florida panthers. For their survival, each panther requires at least 100 square miles of land to hunt and live on.

There is also quite a bit of variation to the topography in these designated wildlife protection areas. The freshwater wetlands are crucial for the survival of many species of bird, fish, and reptiles. They're also an important water supply for these species as well as for the mammals that live within the area.

Surrounding the smaller Keys are the saltwater mangroves. The red and black mangroves line the shores of the tiny islands.

They mangroves are important as they provide breeding grounds for insects which help to support the life of birds and fish. They also provide important nesting and breeding areas for many species of bird as well as habitat for fish such as snook and other wildlife.

Moving inland and to higher elevation on the larger Keys are the tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rocklands that play a crucial role. This is where you'll find gumbo limbo, wild tamarind, sweet acacia, poisonwood, cinnamon bark, wild coffee, palmetto, porcupine palm, and thatch palms.

This land sustains an additional variety of plant and animal life including orchids, bromeliads and butterflies plus a diverse array of wading and non-wading birds, reptiles, and all sizes of mammal. In fact, between the 5 wildlife conservation areas, there are more than 30 threatened or endangered species living within their protected boundaries.

Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge Informational Board

Informational Board At National Key Deer Refuge
Photo Courtesy of Teresa Smith

The 5 Florida Wildlife Sanctuaries

The 5 wildlife protection areas are listed in geographical order beginning with the SW Florida location just east of Naples, then over to the Key Largo area and then traveling southwest to Key West. To learn more about these different regions click on the following links:


Starting from north and west is the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge in southwest Florida. This Refuge is not in the Florida Keys, but a portion of it dips into the northwest section of Everglades National Park.


The Crocodile Lake Refuge is the first wildlife conservation area you'll come to at the north end of the Florida Keys. When you enter Key Largo on US Highway 1 you'll intersect with County Road 905 ...


The Great White Heron Refuge begins north of Marathon FL and continues south to almost Key West. It's administered by the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge and access to the Great ...


The National Key Deer Refuge (NKDR) is situated in the Big Pine Key area and covers 9,700 acres of land. It was formed in 1957 in an attempt to prevent the extinction of the area's tiny deer who are unique ...


Key West National Wildlife Refuge (KWNWR) was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The goal was to protect a variety of birds that were being killed for their feathers during the heyday of ...

The wildlife sanctuaries have been instrumental in not only protecting but reestablishing many of the native species to the area. Some, like the Crocodile Lake Refuge are so sensitive that they are closed to the public. Others like the National Key Deer Refuge, are available for your respectful enjoyment, relaxation and wildlife photography opportunities.

Endangered Key Deer Warning Sign

Endangered Key Deer Warning Sign

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Local Weather Zip Codes

Key Largo - 33037
Marathon - 33050
Key West - 33040