The Dry Tortugas got their name from the many large turtles (about 170 in all) that Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon and his crew took from the islands when they first visited in 1513. Tortuga in Spanish means “turtle.”
Bush Key, one of the islands that make up the Dry Tortugas, once was called Hog Island, due to the fact that hogs were raised there to feed prisoners housed in Fort Jefferson, located on the largest island in the chain, Garden Key.
Bush Key is connected to Garden Key by a sometimes-submerged/sometimes-visible sand bar. Located just to the east of Garden Key, Bush Key is the third largest of these islands. “Large,” however, is a relative term, because Bush Key is just 150 x 900 meters in size (or about 500 feet by about 3,000 feet). To give you some perspective, Bush Key is about the equivalent of or about 1.5 football field lengths wide and about 10 football field lengths long. It’s less than one meter above sea level at its highest.
This low-slung island is filled with sea grape, mangrove, sea oats, bay cedar, and prickly pear cactus. If you’re looking for a “desert island,” Bush Key fits the bill.
The tiny isle has a large tern rookery located on its tiny shores and is closed to visitors from April to September in order to protect the nests of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddys.