Erosion is threatening the very existence of Egmont Key.
Egmont Key is rapidly shrinking. Since 1942, the island has lost nearly 50% of its land mass to erosion and sea level rise; 535 acres dwindled to less than 250 acres now.
Rising seas bring ever higher high tides, passing boat wakes accelerate beach erosion, and seasonal storms take their toll on the entire island. Sadly, erosion has already claimed too much of the beachfront that many wildlife species need to survive. Historical structures dating back to the Spanish-American War are also being lost forever.
Why is Egmont Key important?
Egmont Key is the largest wildlife refuge island in Tampa Bay, and marks the entrance to the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. Each summer the island is home for up to 40,000 pairs of nesting birds, including gulls, terns, pelicans, skimmers, ibis, and osprey. The island is of great importance to sea turtle populations, and is a Designated Index Loggerhead Nesting Beach. A large isolated population of Gopher tortoises, a state-listed threatened species, make their home on the interior parts of the island.
The cultural and historical resources on the island are many and include the Egmont Key Lighthouse and the extensive remains of Fort Dade. Fort Dade’s historic resources are washing away. Two of the five gun batteries have washed into the sea and are now 100 yards offshore. Of the remaining batteries three are surf damaged and quickly eroding. During the Seminole Wars of the 19th century Egmont Key played a role as a waystation on the Trail of Tears. Learn more about Egmont Key and The Seminole here.
Egmont Key is the most visited destination by recreational boaters in the Tampa Bay area and hosts approximately 234,000 visitors annually. This tourism directly supports 281 local jobs and contributes $20 million to the local economy each year. Additionally, Egmont Key serves as the forward operational station for the Tampa Bay Pilots Association and plays an integral role in the delivery of approximately 33 million tons of cargo into the Port of Tampa each year. This commercial activity supports a contribution of $5.1 billion towards the local economy and impacts 85,000 direct, indirect, induced and related jobs.
What can be done to save Egmont Key?
Egmont Key desperately needs sand, and lots of it. The Save Egmont Key Initiative is focused on securing sand that could come from the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Tampa Harbor Navigation Improvement Project. The Corps will complete its feasibility study in August 2024. The proposed project will deepen and widen Tampa Bay’s shipping channels over a three-year period. The Corps is evaluating the placement of the sand removed from the channels around Egmont Key to fully restore the island and placement at other locations. If funded by Congress the pre-construction engineering and design phase will be completed in 2026 and construction should begin shortly thereafter.
Added sand will provide more room for nesting shorebirds and should improve nesting success. The additional sand will also provide more room for nesting sea turtles and will minimize nest washouts. Sand placement will shore up toppling historic structures. Protection of Egmont Key will benefit all of these resources and will provide recreational opportunities for years to come.
The Friends of the Tampa Bay National Wildlife Refuges supports securing this sand for the restoration and preservation of Egmont Key. You too can join the effort to Save Egmont Key!