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Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve

Partnerships for Protection

Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve is one of the southernmost aquatic preserves. It is located in the lower half of the Florida Keys archipelago and lies within the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Established in 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary affords a higher level of protection through both state and federal management. Facing increasing threats to each of the habitats that compose the subtropical ecosystem of the Florida Keys, this state-federal partnership provides protection to 2,900 square nautical miles surrounding the entire archipelago of the Florida Keys, including the Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve. The Florida Park Service handles much of the site management of the aquatic preserve as part of the Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, which overlaps most of the aquatic preserve.

Quick Facts

  • Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve encompasses 7,500 acres of seagrass meadows, deep water channels, hard-bottom communities and mangrove wetlands.
  • Rare wading birds can often be observed foraging in the shallow waters of the tropical lagoon and among the mangroves.
  • Activities within the aquatic preserve include boating, snorkeling, diving, commercial fishing, marine life collecting, charter sport fishing and recreational fishing for finfish and lobster.
  • The tropical hardwood hammock that thrives on Lignumvitae Key is one of the few remaining virgin forests of its type in Florida's Upper Keys.
  • In 1919, William J. Matheson, a wealthy Miami chemist, bought this tiny island and built a caretaker's home with a windmill for electricity and a cistern for rainwater. This building is now the visitor center for the park and is accessible only by boat.

An underwater seagrass bed community.

A topside view of Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve waters.

Managed Location Contact: 
Katy Cummings
Total Acreage: 
Receives State Funding: 
State Owned: 
Public Access: 

Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve is located in the upper half of the Florida Keys in Monroe County. The aquatic preserve includes approximately 7,500 acres of submerged lands lying north and south of U.S. Highway 1 (Overseas Highway), between Upper Matecumbe Key (Islamorada) and Lower Matecumbe Key. Lignumvitae Key is unique within the state system because it encompasses expansive marine grassbeds, bisected by channels that exchange waters between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. It also surrounds Lignumvitae Key State Botanical Site and Shell Key State Preserve. The southern boundary lies immediately north of Indian Key State Historic Site.

Archaeological Resources: 

No archaeological resources are listed within the aquatic preserve, however several historical sites are nearby. In 18 feet of water south of Indian Key lies the San Pedro wreck that sank in 1733. Established as the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Site in 1989, the wreck still exists as a part of Florida's rich maritime history. Indian Key lies south of the aquatic preserve's boundary lines - a small island that has been occupied by various cultures from prehistoric times. In the 1800s, it was a prominent trading village, but has not been inhabited since the 1930s and is now owned by the state of Florida.

Habitat-Wildlife Type: 
Aquatic Preserves
Last Modified:
May 20, 2020 - 2:18pm

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