Erosion lands Egmont Key on preservation list

Egmont Key ruins in water
Ruins of Fort Dade have been claimed by the Gulf of Mexico at Egmont Key. - Cindy Lane | Sun

A local historical landmark has landed Egmont Key on the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2017 “Florida’s 11 to Save” list.

The small island located to the north of Anna Maria Island at the mouth of Tampa Bay is threatened by erosion, something which could eventually see the historic site completely underwater. The island is home to a historic lighthouse, which is still in use, an oil house, guardhouse, park ranger residence and ruins of artillery aiming towers once part of Fort Dade.

Egmont Key Florida's 11 to Save

Being on this year’s list is an attempt to draw more attention to the island in the hopes of saving it from the encroachment of the sea. The properties listed in the 11 to Save program are among the most threatened historic properties in Florida. Joining Egmont Key on this year’s list are the Mosley Plantation in Brandon, Jackson House in Tampa, the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Dade County and the Firestone Building in Tallahassee, among others. Egmont Key is the only historic site on the list threatened by erosion.

Down by half

Once estimated to be approximately 580 acres in size, the island is now about 250 acres, according to the Egmont Key Alliance.  Some of the island’s historic sites have already been claimed by the sea and now are a snorkel and dive site located 100 yards offshore. Erosion of the island places all of the historic structures in danger of being damaged or completely lost to rising tides due to storms, despite beach renourishment efforts.

Visit the Egmont Key Alliance.

A 2014 National Climate Assessment report conducted by the U. S. Global Change Research Program predicts global sea level rises of 12 to 48 inches by 2100. The report notes that global sea level has risen approximately 8 inches since 1880, when reliable record keeping began. Part of this rise is attributed to atmospheric heat from emissions.

It’s estimated the oceans absorb about 90 percent of this increased heat, resulting in thermal expansion of the water. Another contributing factor is the slow melting of glaciers and ice sheets. The report notes that sea level rise is expected to continue past 2100, regardless of heat emissions produced from human activity because the oceans respond slower to climate change than land masses.

The history of Egmont Key dates back to pre-Columbian times and the early Spanish explorers. It also has a rich military history.

During the Third Seminole War, the island was used as a deportation site. It was occupied by Confederate blockade-runners and later was a staging point for the Union Navy during the Civil War, served during the Spanish-American War as a quarantine area and was a World War I training area.

Once home to about 300 residents in 1910, the island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and became a wildlife refuge in 1974. Its current incarnation as Egmont Key State Park began in 1989, though the United States Coast Guard still owns and maintains the lighthouse and 55 acres on the north end of the island. The park is accessible only by boat and is managed by the Florida Park Service.