FWC to conduct wetland restoration project on Big Pine Key
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke ground on a project to restore over 100 acres and 40 acres of mangrove forest comprising the largest freshwater wetland in the lower Florida Keys. The project began on Nov. 16, in Big Pine Key’s National Key Deer Refuge in Monroe County.
Six abandoned roads will be removed and four water control structures will be constructed near Key Deer Boulevard and Watson Road. Removal of the abandoned roadways will restore freshwater flow within the key’s central slough where water once moved freely. The new water control structures will allow for saltwater releases following extreme weather events, with the added benefits of flood protection for residents and greater resilience against sea level rise.
The construction of elevated roadways during the development of the island cut off natural waterflow and impounded wetlands decades ago, allowing salinities to increase after high tidal and storm surge events from hurricanes. Over time, these elevated salt levels have diminished the historically freshwater wetlands native wildlife rely on, including the federally endangered Key deer.
Key deer are a subspecies of white-tailed deer endemic to the Florida Keys. Establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key in 1957 greatly aided their survival, with the current population estimated to be between 700-800 deer – mostly concentrated on neighboring Big Pine and No Name keys.
To learn more about the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration projects visit MyFWC.com/AquaticHabitats.
For more information on this project, contact FWC biologist Steven Gornak at 863-824-4166.