Our dolphins escort us much of the way to Egmont Key, an island that lies southwest of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. As Miss John’s Pass slows and approaches the beaches, we surprise a pair of gold and brown sea turtles swimming at the surface, their big, dark eyes nervously watching us pass. This beautiful island is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Wildlife Refuge and a state park. Egmont Key offers the opportunity to go snorkeling in clear water and around the collapsed and sunken ruins of Fort Dade. When snorkeling, watch for wildlife like manatees, tropical fish, sea turtles, and other wildlife, and sea birds and gopher tortoises on the island. Shelling and sunbathing on the beautiful beaches and exploring the ghost town inland can all be done during our half-day Egmont Key tour.
The lighthouse, completed in 1858, still marks the entrance to Tampa Bay from the Gulf of Mexico with its beacon. It was once the only lighthouse on the Gulf coast of Florida between Key West and St. Marks near Tallahassee.
Egmont Key was used in the Seminole Indian Wars and the Civil War. A cemetery for Union and Confederate dead was opened on the island in 1864.
Fort Dade was established in 1899 on Egmont Key to help protect the entrance to Tampa Bay from Spanish battleships during the Spanish American War. A settlement was built on the island to house the approximately 300 U.S. Army personnel and officers’ families. The remains of the homes, buildings and brick roads are fascinating to explore. Numerous artillery batteries still stand on the island and the big guns once mounted there pointed toward the shipping channel and St. Pete Beach. Many of the structures have fallen into the water as the island beaches have eroded over time. These areas provide wonderful snorkeling opportunities as they have made habitats for a variety of native island wildlife.
Today, we can enjoy all that Egmont Key has to offer, including pristine white beaches and many types of native wildlife, including many endangered species. Hummingbirds, sea birds, ospreys, eagles and gopher tortoises can be seen on the island and snorkeling visitors can swim with a variety of wildlife including tropical fish, rays, crabs, octopus, starfish, sea horses and sand dollars. And of course, there are the dolphins and manatees that wander close to the beaches. The shelling is excellent and on a lucky day, visitors can find shark teeth.
Enjoy your visit to the beautiful and historic island of Egmont Key.