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Unusual Florida Islands and Their Conch Republic Secession From the United States

Updated on April 12, 2019
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.


How Many Keys Are Really in Florida?

If the former Tonight Show host Jay Leno went Jay Walking again to ask the man and the woman in the street how many Keys are in Florida, he would receive some interesting replies.

First of all, some would ask, "Do you mean keys for locks?"

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Conch Republic Airport on Key West.The Passport Office.Office of the Secretary General of the Conch Republic.Original Sloppy Joe's Bar from 1933 - 1937.Inside the Captain Tony's Saloon.
The Conch Republic Airport on Key West.
The Conch Republic Airport on Key West. | Source
The Passport Office.
The Passport Office. | Source
Office of the Secretary General of the Conch Republic.
Office of the Secretary General of the Conch Republic. | Source
Original Sloppy Joe's Bar from 1933 - 1937.
Original Sloppy Joe's Bar from 1933 - 1937. | Source
Inside the Captain Tony's Saloon.
Inside the Captain Tony's Saloon. | Source

Some individuals might not understand that a "key" in this instance is a geographic structure.This type of key is named after the Spanish "cayo" that we translate as "small island" or "islet."

Others might guess from pop songs they have heard and from fleeting references to Ernest Hemingway in films that there exist perhaps three, four, or a dozen islands in a line called an "archipelago."

Actually, sources cite up to 1,700 Florida Keys. This is because many are very small, uninhabited, and discovered west of Key West. Many have no names.

How many do you know besides Key Largo and Key West?

Sources cite the number of 1,700 Florida Keys in the archipelago just off the southern tip of the state. Many of these islands are uninhabited, including those actually located west of Key West. Only 44 of the islands are connected by bridges, one of which is seven miles long.

Key West, southernmost of the Florida Keys archipelago.
Key West, southernmost of the Florida Keys archipelago. | Source

An Easier Question for You.

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The Conch Train for tours.
The Conch Train for tours.
The Conch Train for tours. | Source

The Keys Secede From the USA in 1982

Perhaps the most interesting element of the Florida Keys is their 23 April 1982 secession of Key West from the United States. Some residents of the Keys today tell me that they still wish to separate from the Union.

An act of Congress eventually allowed the residents of the Florida Keys to be awarded dual citizenship as American citizens and as Conch citizens (named after the local sea animal).

In April 1982 the US Border Patrol blockaded US Highway 1 at the entrance to the Florida Mainland at Florida City, Dade County. Citizens of the Keys felt that they had been thrown out of the Union. After the blockade stuck, officers required to see proof of citizenship from everyone driving up Highway 1 through the Keys to the mainland.

Incensed, the Mayor of Key West went to Miami City Hall to protest these actions and ask the blockade to withdraw. Failure of this saw Mayor Denis Wardlow become Premier of the Conch Republic, which rebelled against the US for 60 seconds and then surrendered to ask for a billion dollars in Foreign Aid.

Fun in the Conch Republic.
Fun in the Conch Republic. | Source

"Conch Days" holidays occur during the last week of April annually. The well maintained Conch Republic Naval Forces attack US Coast Guard ships with water cannons and rolls of toilet paper for the appreciative audiences.

Mascots of the Conch Republic.
Mascots of the Conch Republic. | Source

Secretary General of the Conch Republic, Sir Peter Anderson, passed away from lung cancer at age 67 in his sleep at 9:18 a.m. on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014...Most notably. he was successful in encouraging cruise ships to give up dumping raw sewage into the ocean offshore, and install waste water treatment facilities on their ships.

— Conch Republic Website

The Rebellion of 1995

War nearly occurred in on September 20, 1995 when the US Army Reserve's 478th Civil Affairs Battalion began to exercise a simulation of invading a foreign land. Their leadership did not tell the US Government or anyone on Key West about their ensuing drill. It was quite the surprise (source:

The army battalion landed and pretended that Floridians were foreign nationals!

Dennis Wardlow ordered water cannons on any and all available Key West water craft to be ready to shoot back. Thus prepared, he filed an official grievance with the Department of Defense (DOD). The US Army battalion actually went along with a ceremony of surrender on September 22. Florida won the war games.

Official National Website of Conch Republic

  • Conch We seceded where others failed. We have passports and official Conch Republic gear.
  • The National Anthem of Conch Republic is sung by the Key Lime Pie Band in the video below.

Geological Formation of the Florida Keys

Changes 60,000 to 100,000 Years Ago

Sometime in the distant past of Earth, a line of corals formed west of what is now mainland Florida with the help of sea creatures and native plants.

Once totally submerged, parts of the coral line began to emerge from receding waters to become islands.

Some geological survey data sources state that a few of the Keys did not appear above water until sometime between 1920 to 1930 in the 20th century.

In the last several decades, tidal waters have been rising once more and some of the Keys may lost a bit of land area from their shorelines, just as has Alaska and New Jersey, among others.

Some islands, like Tortugas bank are still submerged west of Dry Tortugas National Park, which is a group of the coral islands that is uninhabited except by native wildlife and plants.

The website suggests that there are at least 882 charted islands in the coral chain that extends from about 30 miles southwest of Miami to Key Largo and extends to uninhabited places west of the popular endpoint of Key West.

Key West is about 113 miles from the eastern terminus of the major highway cutting through all the islands along bridges and land.

A fantastic vacation includes driving the length of the highway and stopping on each island to enjoy its pleasures and history.

US Highway 1 through the Florida Keys

John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park:
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo, FL 33037, USA

get directions

Turtugas Bank:
Tortugas Bank, Dry Tortugas National Park

get directions

A ferry, seaplane, or catamaran is needed to complete the trip to Dry Tortugas.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Marathon KeyDuval Street in Key West.Fort Jefferson,Dry Tortugas National Park.
Marathon Key
Marathon Key | Source
Duval Street in Key West.
Duval Street in Key West. | Source
Fort Jefferson,Dry Tortugas National Park.
Fort Jefferson,Dry Tortugas National Park. | Source

The Upper Keys are closest to Mainland Florida and The Everglades, with Highway 1 running through them. Highway 1 has been named an official All-American Road.

The Upper Keys

  • North Key Largo and Key Largo Island
  • Tavernier
  • Plantation Island
  • Windley
  • Upper Matecumbe
  • Tea Table
  • Indian
  • Lignumvitae
  • Lower Matecumbe
  • Islamorada

Upper Keys, Florida:
Upper Keys, FL, USA

get directions

Key Largo is called the Diving Capital of the World.

Interesting Attractions

  • The Christ of the Abyss : At time 5:15 on the above nine-minute video, you will see the school of fish part to show The Christ of the Abyss statue. It was sculpted by Guido Galletti to honor Dario Gonzatti, the first Italian diver to use SCUBA gear. The Key Largo statue was presented to the Underwater Society of America in New York in 1962 and taken to Key Largo in 1965. Located 25 beneath the sea, if offers an incredible aura of peace.

  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park - Key Largo, Florida Keys

    John Pennekamp State Park located in Key Largo, Florida Keys. The only concessionaire operating inside the park. Featuring glass-bottom boats, snorkel, sailing, scuba tours and family water fun.

  • Keep Them Flying

    Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Tavernier, FL. Rescue, Rehab, Release. 5 acres of native hammock & shore-front property. Over 20 species of native & migratory wild birds.

  • NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

    The official website for the NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This site contains all of the official information on current Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary projects and events.

The Middle Keys

  • Craig
  • Fiesta
  • Long
  • Layton
  • Conch
  • Little Conch
  • Duck Key
  • Grassy
  • Crawl
  • Little Crawl
  • Long Point
  • Fat Deer
  • Vaca
  • Marathon
  • Key Colony Beach
  • Boot
  • Knights

Middle Keys FL:
Middle Keys, FL, USA

get directions

Seven Mile Bridge:
Seven Mile Bridge, Seven Mile Bridge, Florida, USA

get directions

Marathon in the Middle

Marathon is the major element in this line, featuring an airport and many activities, like tours of the Dolphin Research Center, the Turtle Hospital, Crane Hammock Point, and Sombrero Beach. The Seven Mile Bridge is here as well.

You can find 5-Star restaurants and resort hotels on Marathon, but also "Botels", which are motels with rooms on the waterfront that include a boat slip. Annual festivals on Marathon Key include Arts and Seafood celebrations and besides fine diing, there is casual dining aong the lines of shops in the business district.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Long shot of Seven Mile Bridge. Notice the broken section.
Long shot of Seven Mile Bridge. Notice the broken section.
Long shot of Seven Mile Bridge. Notice the broken section. | Source

Middle Line Attractions

The Lower Keys

  • Pigeon
  • Money
  • Little Duck
  • Missouri
  • Ohio
  • Sunshine
  • Bahia Honda
  • Spanish Harbor
  • Scout (West Summerland until the year 2010)
  • No Name
  • Big Pine
  • Torch
  • Little Torch
  • Middle Torch
  • Big Torch
  • Ramrod
  • Summerland
  • Knockemdown
  • Cudjoe
  • Sugarloaf
  • Park
  • Lower Sugarloaf
  • Saddlebunch
  • Shark
  • Geiger
  • Big Coppitt
  • East Rockland
  • Rockland
  • Boca Chica
  • Raccoon
  • Stock Island
  • Key West

Lower Keys:
Lower Keys, FL, USA

get directions

Key West:
Key West, FL, USA

get directions

Jewfish Basin:
Jewfish Basin, Florida, USA

get directions

Pockets made through the mangrove trees around here and Mud Key contain tons of fish like Mangrove Snapper, Red Drum, Barracuda, Grouper & Jewfish

The Ernest Hemingway House in Key West.
The Ernest Hemingway House in Key West. | Source

Highlights of the Lower Keys

  • Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key: This is a state park with an open public beach. Great Florida Keys Beaches and activities for all of the public.
  • Hemingway Home and Museum: Located at 907 Whitehead Street in Old Town Key West. The six-toed cats lurking about are likely the descendants of Ernest Hemingway's cats (see the tab marked Our Cats).

  • Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society in Key West, Florida is a museum that showcases gold, silver, and varieties of treasures recovered from shipwrecks in the New World. View treasures from the Atocha, Santa Margarita, St. John' Wreck, and others.
  • National Key Deer Refuge | US Fish and Wildlife Service - The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957 to protect and preserve Key Deer and other wildlife resources in the Florida Keys. The refuge is located in the lower Florida Keys and currently consists of approximately 9,200 acres of land, under ongoing preservation work.

A Key Deer, found in the national refuge and on other Keys.
A Key Deer, found in the national refuge and on other Keys. | Source

Key West Wartime History

Built beginning in 1845, Fort Zachary Taylor was important to the Union Army during the American Civil War, but was remodeled and used in the Spanish American War in the 1889.

The fort was not completed until about 1866 after 20 years of construction, but when it was, it included a type of flush toilets flushed by the Gulf of Mexico tides. It also had a desalination system for creating fresh drinking water.

Fort Zachary Taylor and moat in its namesake state park.
Fort Zachary Taylor and moat in its namesake state park. | Source

A National Historic Place and National Landmark, Fort Zachary Taylor is home to the largest cadre of Civil War cannons in the USA.

The beaches surrounding this landmark are used for swimming and snorkeling expeditions. There are also free BBQ grills, bathrooms, and changing cabanas for users.

Small Islands Farther to the West

Last of the Lower Keys

  • Sigsbee
  • Fleming
  • Sunset
  • Wisteria

Outliers: The Mule Keys

  • Mule
  • Crawfish
  • Archer
  • Joe Ingram
  • Big Mullet
  • Barracouta
  • Cottrell
  • Man
  • Little Mullet
  • Ballast
  • Woman
  • Boca Grande

Outliers: Marquesas Keys

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.One side of Fort Jefferson.Garden Key Harbor Light for Fort Jefferson.Loggerhead Key lighthouse.
Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas.
Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas. | Source
One side of Fort Jefferson.
One side of Fort Jefferson. | Source
Garden Key Harbor Light for Fort Jefferson.
Garden Key Harbor Light for Fort Jefferson. | Source
Loggerhead Key lighthouse.
Loggerhead Key lighthouse. | Source

Outliers: Dry Tortugas Keys

  • The largest in is group is Loggerhead Key, which sits among Garden, Bush, Long, East, Hospital, and Middle Keys. The tall ship Avanti wrecked off the coast of Loggerhead in 1904 and was discovered in 1971.
  • Dry Tortugas National Park was established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 as a monument to Thomas Jefferson and upgrades to a national park in 1992.

Outliers: Tortugas Banks

  • These are completely submerged and made of coral and limestone.

Tortugas Bank is furthest west and is totally submerged in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tortugas Bank is furthest west and is totally submerged in the Gulf of Mexico. | Source

Songs About the Florida Keys

  • Clambake. Artist: Elvis Presley
  • Down In The Florida Keys. Artist:Tom T. Hall.
  • Gulf Coast Highway - Darius Rucker & Nanci Griffith
  • Key Largo - Written by Berti Higgins.
  • Kokomo (on Grassy Key). Artist: the Beach Boys.
  • Margaritaville. Artist Jimmy Buffet.
  • The Florida Keys Song. Artist Gerd Rube

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS


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    • mylindaelliott profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana

      Great information. I learned a whole lot about the Florida Keys.


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