Our dolphins escort us much of the way to Egmont Key, an island that lies southwest of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. As our Captain 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. Our trip to Egmont Key is an opportunity to see dolphins and other wildlife, to sun on long stretches of beach you can have to yourself, to snorkel in clear water and to explore some of Florida’s rich history.
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 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 lights 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.
Fort Dade was established in 1899 on Egmont Key to protect the entrance to Tampa Bay from Spanish naval ships during the Spanish American War. A settlement was built on the island to house the approximately 300 U.S. Army personnel and officers’ families and the remains of the homes, buildings and brick roads are fascinating to explore. Numerous artillery batteries still stand on the island and many of the structures have fallen into the water as the island beaches have eroded over time. These areas provide habitats for a variety of native island wildlife on land and in the water.
Today, we can enjoy all that Egmont Key has to offer, including pristine white beaches and 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.