Description - The state of Florida has nearly two dozen wildlife refuges protecting the state's fragile ecosystem of wetlands, pine plantations, barrier islands, sawgrass sloughs, estuaries, hardwood hammocks, mangrove and cypress swamps. Six out of eight travel regions harbor refuges. The Gulf coast and the southern tip of Florida have the highest concentration of refuges.
Copyright: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Public Domain: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- The state of Florida boasts over 20 National Wildlife Refuges that cover a wide spectrum of habitats conducive to the protection, nesting and housing of wildlife, birdlife and plant life. The biological diverse communities stretch from northwestern Florida down into the subtropical and submerged islands off Key West.
Located in the Northwest Travel Region is St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, which is an undeveloped barrier island just offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River.
Tourists traveling to the North Central Travel Region will enjoy St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, topography of flat woodlands and ponds. They will also find the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, which is a wetland ecosystem along the lower reaches of the Suwannee River. One of the oldest refuges in the area is Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge that has been set aside for the breeding of colonial birds.
The Central West Travel Region, has four refuges including Chassahowitzka, Crystal River, Egmont Key, and the nations oldest refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. They are a compilation of barrier islands, saltwater bays, estuaries and brackish marshes fostering national significance for their nesting grounds and historical structures.
On the opposite shore, along the Atlantic Ocean, the Central East Travel Region hosts three refuges including one of America's most beloved birding sites, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This linear travel region is also home to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, protected nesting habitat for loggerhead and green sea turtles. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded in this region that now hosts a birding festival each November.
Folks traveling to the southern reaches of Florida along the Atlantic coast will enter the Southeastern Travel Region that has an array of federal parcels including the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, Key West National Wildlife Refuge, and National Key Deer Refuge. The spectacularly beautiful and placid area supports floral and faunal communities not found elsewhere in the United States. Flocks of shorebirds, mergansers, terns, and wading birds are common sights.
Also along the southern tip of Florida, on the Gulf side, is the Southwestern Travel Region. This region has the largest concentration of refuges and remains Florida's best wildlife observation spot. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy Pine Island, Matlacha Pass, J.N. Ding Darling, Island Bay and Caloosahatchee National Wildlife Refuges where they will find canoe trails, hiking trails, auto touring and even an interpretive tram. Experiences include sights of the American alligator and the American crocodile living side by side. Hundreds of species of birdlife, plant life and wildlife are visible, binoculars are recommended. Added bonuses are the equally impressive sunsets and sunrises.
Recreation - Florida is fortunate in that its National Wildlife Refuges encourage visitors to enjoy an array of outdoor recreation opportunities. Visitor Centers introduce tourists to the wonderful and magical natural kingdom of Florida. Educational programs compliment these Centers. A favorite and highly publicized recreation is the scenic driving opportunities within the refuges that furnish up close sights of resident and migratory birdlife. Paddling the backwaters of the refuges is growing in popularity, while guide experts are receiving national recognition. Hiking, fishing, and hunting are generational favorites.
Climate - Florida's weather is dominated by the water that surrounds it. The Atlantic Ocean in the east and the Gulf of Mexico in the west provide a stabilizing force that maintains the mild climate. Northern Florida is considered sub tropical, although it does receive some snow. This area is drier than the rest of the state. Southern areas of the state, definitely the Keys, lie within a tropical climate. Humidity is high, a characteristic of the climate, although the temperatures usually don't extend past 90 degrees F.
On the average the state receives 50 to 65 inches of rain. Summer is the rainy season, which extends into October in the south. Hurricane season begins in late August. Some hurricanes can bring up to 25 inches of rain. An average of two hurricanes per season reach the Florida peninsula. Most often these storms reach the Atlantic Coast rather than the Gulf Coast.
Six out of eight travel regions harbor refuges. The two regions minus protective U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife tracts are Central Travel Region and Northeast Travel Region. The Gulf coast and the southern tip of Florida have the highest concentration of refuges.