Humans have occupied the Florida Keys for thousands of years. Several thousand years before the Spanish explorers arrived, the ancestors of the Calusa Indians migrated to the Keys to hunt and to harvest the abundant marine resources.

Building the oversea highway
Florida Photo Archives
- Building the Overseas Highway

The Spanish explored the Keys but had no interest in colonizing this area, although they did begin logging giant mahoganies for shipment back to Europe. Returning home with treasures taken from the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec empires, Spanish ships would frequently wreck on the dangerous offshore reefs along the Keys. The practice of "wrecking" began with the Calusa Indians and continued with the British, Bahamians, and Americans and until recently was the primary industry of the Keys.

Except for Key West, which was the largest city in Florida with a population of 9,890 in 1880, most places in the Keys were barely populated with a settler or two and perhaps a few farmers growing tropical fruits and vegetables. The construction of the Florida East Coast Railroad in 1905 and the Florida Keys Overseas Highway in 1938 brought an increase in the cultivation of tropical plants as well as commercial and recreational fishing.

Florida Photo Archives
- postcard "Off to the Sea"

Today tourism is the primary industry in the Keys and has greatly affected the landscape. Development for tourists as well as a burgeoning year-round population has had considerable detrimental effects on the native tropical wildlife and plant communities, making it imperative that those that remain be protected.

FWC Facts:
The Nature Conservancy's Jay Watch program needs your help! Jay Watch volunteers assist with monitoring populations of the endemic scrub-jay and scrub vegetation conditions.

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