Working and Playing on the Water
Indians and the Spanish both favored the once plentiful green
turtles that provided meat, eggs, and tortoise shells. A staple of
the Caribbean diet, green turtles gradually became recognized
worldwide as a delicacy. Canneries
were established in Key West as early as 1849 but, by the 1970s,
over-hunting put the sea turtle on the endangered animals list and
the industry is now banned in the United States.
Today, shrimp, known locally as “pink gold,” are
harvested commercially in the Keys, along with Spanish lobster and
many varieties of fish.
harvesting began with the first settlers.
By 1852, it had grown to a worldwide export business when
Keys sponges were declared the equal of Mediterranean varieties.
Larger vessels would travel hundred of miles into the Gulf of
Mexico to get the best sponges; smaller vessels would gather their
harvest from the reef, where sponges were readily available but not
of the first quality.
either for survival or for profit, is the oldest profession in the
Keys. Indians traded
fish to passing ships and settlers lived on fish, just as the
indigenous people had. By
the late 19th century, the Keys were attracting sportsmen
who sought the challenge of fishing for tarpon, barracuda, hogfish,
shark, dolphin fish, and the like.
amateur anglers might be described as the Keys’ first tourists,
and the attraction of fishing in these turquoise waters lingers
today. However, the
outside world dramatically influenced the Keys around the turn of
the century when Flagler’s railroad made tourism into an industry.
He built the first of the large hotels—the Casa
Marina—which stands today at the end of Flagler Avenue.
At the dawn of the 21st century, scuba,
snorkeling, kayaking, and other water sports attract visitors from
all over the world.
Where Ecological and Social Systems Merge
and Playing on the Water