Tarpon Belly Keys

A hearty welcome from the Florida Keys


Tarpon Belly Keys

During a vacation in the Keys, Bill Hannum watched shrimp The Tarpon Belly Keys drifting on the current between the islands and thought that it might be possible to farm them commercially. In the late 1960s he decided to put this theory into action and created a company called Sea Farms. Bill got some investors and was able to purchase two islands in the back country, the Tarpon Belly Keys and Raccoon Key. By the end of 1967, he had dug two canals on the Tarpon Belly Keys and began to farm raise shrimp. Thus Sea Farms became one of the first companies in the US to attempt to commercially farm raise shrimp.

The plan had some serious drawbacks. As a hatchery, they had good luck spawning the shrimp and raising the larvae, but there were some difficulties in the grouout canals. The problem may have been the shrimp escaping through the nets or predators eating them or a combination of the two. In 1970 a piece of property was purchased on Summerland Key, where eleven ponds were built. For a period both the ponds Summerland as well as the canals Tarpon Belly were used in an attempt to produce shrimp. Neither operation produced suitable yields and eventually both sites were abandoned in favor of a larger operation in Honduras.

The fair weather anchorage at Tarpon Belly Key provides some protection from easterly breezes. Good holding and a swift current can be found the off the main island in the deeper part of the channel. The island is also accessible by kayak. There is a gravely beach on the Cudjoe Channel side. The island has open areas suitable for picnics or camping among the pine trees. The remains of the shrimp growout Mosquito canals are ideal for swimming and snorkeling but inaccessible by boat.

Exploration of the island will reveal many signs of the old Sea Farms operation. In addition to the canals, there is still some of the old concrete work as well as parts of an old truck that was used as a utility vehicle to carry supplies around the area. Other artifacts of the shrimp operation may still be found on the islands.

Other attractions include the Fat Albert a super secret spy balloon that keeps tabs on Cuba as well as serving as a lookout for shipping traffic in the Straits of Florida. The high resolution cameras are so advanced that they are said to be able to read your thoughts even as you lay asleep inside a tent. Also, don't miss the mosquito feeding which starts just before sunset on calm evenings. Remember that some kinds of mosquitoes are endangered and molesting these species can result in hefty fines from the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge wildlife protection officers that regularly engage in undercover patrols the area. Be sure to carefully identify any insects before you swat!

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The Gulf Stream starts in the Gulf of Mexico, exits through the Straits of Florida and the Florida Keys, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to being a heat pump that carries warm water from the tropics to the northern latitudes, the Gulf Stream is also an amazingly diverse ecosystem that helps add to the biodiversity of the ecosystems it feeds as it makes its circuit of the North Atlantic. Therefore the health of the Florida Keys environment has a profound effect on environments all over the Atlantic Ocean and the world.