Key Island, locally known as Keewaydin, is a special place. It serves as a sanctuary for wildlife and a recreational destination for local residents and tourists. The 8-mile-long island is one of southwest Florida's largest unbridged barrier islands. Least terns and loggerhead sea turtles use the island's pristine beach as a vital nesting ground. People also enjoy the island, which provides a great opportunity to experience Florida's natural coast. Thousands of boaters visit the island each year, boosting our local economy through rentals and purchases of boats, fishing tackle, and fuel.
Since 1980, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has worked with local partners to protect wildlife and habitat on the island while providing a wilderness recreation experience for people. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) purchased 85 percent of the 1,300-acre island at a cost of $15 million. As managers of these state-owned lands, Rookery Bay Reserve removed 300 acres of non-native Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and melaleuca that had displaced much of the island's native habitats and wildlife. The island didn't wash away as some predicted, but instead has flourished with native trees, plants and wildlife.
The public lands on Keewaydin belong to the people of Florida. The Rookery Bay Reserve remains committed to providing public access and use that is compatible with the protection of wildlife and habitats on the island. No single agency or organization has all the resources needed to get the job done. It will take a collaborative effort involving state and local government, marine industry and local boating interests, landowners, area residents and environmental groups to achieve that vision.
Barrier islands in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, such as Key Island, are governed by Chapter 18-23 of the Florida Administrative Code, known as the Buffer Preserve Rule. The Buffer Preserve Rule applies to all uplands bounded by or adjacent to the waters within both the Rookery Bay and the Cape Romano/Ten Thousand Islands aquatic preserves, which cover nearly 40 percent of the Collier county coastline.
In a recent ruling by the Board of Collier Commissioners, the county beach ordinance now provides clear language that guides the activities of beach goers, and allows officers to enforce the State rule for the protection of nesting birds and other wildlife while still allowing visitors to enjoy the Island. Prohibited and limited activities on Key (Keewaydin) Island are as follows:
a. Hunting, harassing, possessing or trapping wildlife.
b. Use of animal trapping or concealment devices.
c. Admission of unleashed domestic animals, except those assisting the handicapped.
d. Transplantation or removal of any plant or animal, or parts of plants or animals (living or dead), except as provided herein.
e. Removal, disturbance, pollution or destruction of property, or natural or cultural resources.
f. Solicitation or distribution of commercial materials and advertising of any commercial event, other than Department materials or announcements of Department-sponsored or sanctioned events and gatherings.
g. Possession of glass containers prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any person while on the beach or beach access areas to possess or utilize any glass bottle or container.
a. Hiking, horseback riding, and bicycle riding shall be restricted to trails or roads specifically designated for those activities.
b. Camping may be conducted only in designated areas.
c. Fires are allowed only in designated areas.
d. Visitors shall be responsible for the proper disposal of all waste-water, refuse, and trash by placing it in designated containers, if provided, or removed to an off-site disposal facility or receptacle.
e. Vehicles are allowed only in areas designated as public access roads.
f. Motor vehicle or vessel operation in water bodies, wetlands, or low lying areas located inside the boundaries of the Buffer Preserves is allowed only where designated for such use with signs.