The word “kraal” is Afrikaan for livestock enclosure, likely derived from Portuguese curral or Spanish corral. Contemporary references to turtle pens use the term “crawl,” which may be based on action of captive turtles.
Noted naturalist John James Audubon wrote in 1832: “Each turtler has his crawl, which is a square wooden building
or pen, formed of logs, which are so far separated as to allow the tide to pass freely through, and stand erect in the mud. The turtles are placed in this enclosure, fed and kept there until sold.”
In 1911, a visitor describing kraals at a “turtle market” observed of his guide: “Then, opening a number of trap doors,
he showed me a stock of green turtles, Chelonia mydas, a hundred or more of various sizes, swimming in the crawls under the dock. A “crawl” is a large enclosure of water about five feet deep surrounded by closely driven palmetto posts.”
The two surviving kraals here today were placed in the late 1920s by Thompson Enterprises because the Key West Bight area, home to the island’s fishing fleet, was relatively sheltered from the surf and swells of the open sea that could bang crowded turtles together and cause harm.