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 About the Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve
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Description of Site
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Management Status


Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
33 East Quay Road
Key West, Florida 33040
(305) 292-0311
Monday through Friday 8am - 5pm

Description of Site

Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve encompasses expansive sea grassbeds, bisected by deep 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 and in close proximity to the San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Site.


Established 1969. Statutory authority is found in Chapters 253 and 258, Florida Statutes, and Chapters 18-20 and 18-21, Florida Administrative Code.


Located in the upper half of the Florida Keys in Monroe County, Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve is situated between Upper Matecumbe Key (Islamorada) and Lower Matecumbe Key.


Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve encompasses 7,500 acres of seagrass meadows, deep water channels and hard bottom communities.


Not applicable.


The predominant natural community of the preserve are the extensive seagrass beds. Mangroves surround the two islands and consolidated substrate

Consolidated substrate (hard bottom) can be found on the northern shore of Lignumvitae Key and along the northeastern boundary of the preserve.

Ecological Importance

Lobster, bonefish, tarpon, and permit comprise some of the important commercial and recreational marine species of the preserve.

Mangrove communities contribute substantially to the health and productivity of marine systems in the preserve. Shoreline stabilization, storm protection, filtration and stabilization of sediments, nutrient cycling and habitat diversity are only a few of the many functions that this community performs.

Marine grassbeds are a major component of the aquatic resources of the preserve. Seagrasses stabilize sediments, baffle wave energy, cycle nutrients, and provide substrate for a complex floral and faunal community. Abundant food and cover make this an important resource for invertebrates and a nursery area for many fish species.

Rare / Endangered Species

Common Name
Scientific Name
mangrove rivulus Rivulus marmoratus SSC n/a
Key blenny Starksia starcki SSC n/a
Atlantic loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta caretta T T
Atlantic green turtle Chelonia mydas mydas E E
Key mud turtle Kinosternon bauri bauri E n/a
roseate spoonbill Ajaia ajaja SSC n/a
white-crowned pigeon Columba leucocephala T n/a
little blue heron Egretta caerulea SSC n/a
reddish egret Egretta rufescens SSC n/a
snowy egret Egretta thula SSC n/a
tricolored heron Egretta tricolor SSC n/a
peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus E T
Southeastern American kestrel Falco sparverius paulus T n/a
osprey Pandion haliaetus SSC n/a
least tern Sterna antillarum T n/a
Key Largo wood rat Neotoma floridana smalli E E
West Indian manatee Trichechus manatus E E
giant leather fern Acrostichum danaeifolium T n/a
prickly apple cactus Cereus gracilis E n/a
dildoe cactus Cereus pentagonus T n/a
satinleaf Chrysophyllum olivaeforme E n/a
coconut palm Cocos nucifera T n/a
geiger tree Cordia sebestena E n/a
cupania Cupania glabra E n/a
dollar orchid Encyclia boothiana E n/a
clamshell orchid Encyclia cochleata T n/a
butterfly orchid Encyclia.tampensis T n/a
wild cotton Gossypium hirsutum T n/a
lignumvitae Guaiacum sanctum E n/a
manchineel Hippomane mancinella T n/a
joewood Jacquinia keyensis T n/a
twistspine prickly pear cactus Opuntia compressa T n/a
prickly pear cactus Opuntia stricta T n/a
bay cedar Suriana maritima E n/a
West Indian mahogany Swietenia mahogani T n/a
wild pine Tillandsia balbisiana T n/a
wild pine Tillandsia circinata T n/a
twisted air plant Tillandsia flexuosa T n/a
needle-leaved air plant Tillandsia setacea T n/a
worm-vine orchid Vanilla barbellata E n/a

State listings are taken from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or as with plants Florida Department of Agriculture.  Federal listings are taken from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. E= Endangered; T= Threatened; T (s/a)= Threatened due to similarity in appearance; SSC= Species of Special Concern; UR= Under review; n/a= information not available or no designation listed; C=Commercially exploited

Geomorphic Features

The two islands in the preserve are Lignumvitae Key and Shell Key.

Archaeological Features

The San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Site is located south of Indian Key and is named after a Spanish merchant which sank in 1733. A fleet of Spanish ships had sailed from Havana in route to Europe heavily laden with trade goods and precious metals. A hurricane scattered the fleet and all but one were sank. The state established the site in 1989 for interpretation of Florida�s rich maritime history.

Indian Key, a small island to the south of the preserve boundary, served as the county seat for Dade County in the 1830�s and was a prosperous wrecking village. Jacob Housman, the owner and developer of the island, gained notoriety for his wrecking exploits and treatment of the native Indians in the area. In 1840, the 10 acre island was attacked by a band of 100 Indians. All of the buildings and supplies were pillaged or burned. The remaining streets and foundations have been reclaimed and is open to the public for tours.

Lignumvitae Key has tours offered by the Florida Park Service of a turn of the century house and the surrounding grounds which are maintained as they were during that time period.



The preserve offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, lobstering, wildlife observation and photography.

Commercial ventures in the preserve include fishing for lobster and stone crabs, charter boats for fishing, boat rentals, and tropical fish collection.


The Department of Environmental Protection offers guided tours of both the cultural and natural history of the area.


Research in the preserve is mostly focused on methods for restoration of boating impacts to the seagrass beds. Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection and the US National Park Service are conducting joint and separate projects.

Management Status

Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water.

Ownership / Manager:

Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve is owned by the State of Florida and is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas.

Management Activities:
  1. Restoration of propeller scars on the grassbeds
  2. Conducting resource inventories
  3. Delivering educational/informational brochures to area boat rental businesses.

Monitoring Activities:
  1. Restoration of propeller scars on sea grassbeds
  2. Grass seedlings for replanting on grassbeds
  3. Grounding sites

Research by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection includes juvenile fish studies and developing methods for restoration of boating impacts to the sea grassbeds.

Management Needs:

More research and increasing public awareness of value of sea grassbeds are the primary need for the Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve.

Management Issues and Threats:

Management issues include conflicting uses, increasing watercraft traffic, the protection of designated species and their habitat, the protection of bird feeding and resting areas, research needs, damage to marine resources and acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands.

Impacts to the natural resources of Lignumvitae Key Aquatic Preserve include propeller and grounding damage to grassbeds, marine life collecting, the placement and retrieval of lobster traps, and vessel mooring for extended periods which shade submerged vegetation.


Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1992. Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve Management Plan. Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 1994. Official Lists of Endangered and Potentially Endangered Fauna and Flora of Florida, compiled by Don A. Wood. Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1990. a Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida. Tallahassee, FL.

Gato, Jeannette. 1991. The Monroe County Environmental Story. The Monroe County Environmental Education Task Force. Big Pine Key, FL.

Kale, Herbet W. and David S. Maehr. 1990. Florida�s Birds. Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, FL.

Nellis, David W. 1994. Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean. Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, FL.

Scurlock, J. Paul. 1987. Native Trees and Shrubs of the Florida Keys. Laurel & Herbet, Inc. Lower Sugarloaf Key, FL.

Last updated: April 06, 2015

  3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 235 Tallahassee, Florida 32399 850-245-2094
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