Endangered Historic Sites

Florida Keys Reef Lighthouses


The Florida Keys Reef Lighthouses are an important piece of Florida’s history. The six reef lighthouses are Carysfort Reef (6 miles south of Key Largo), Sand Key (7 miles southwest of Key West), Sombrero Key (5 miles south of Marathon), Alligator Reef (4 miles south of Islamorada), Fowey Rocks (6 miles east of Key Biscayne) and American Shoal (5 miles south of Sugar Loaf). Built between 1852 and 1880, these lighthouses are made of cast iron with a skeletal design to let as much wind and waves pass through in order to withstand hurricanes. These lighthouses were constructed to warn ships of the hazardous reefs below the surface.

The Florida Keys Reef Lighthouses are currently owned by the US Coast Guard. The Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation is applying for ownership of all but Fowey Rocks, which has been transferred to Biscayne National Park. With the Coast Guard facing budget cuts and many boaters relying on GPS for navigation, the proper upkeep of the lighthouses has been lacking. All lighthouses now have corrosion showing, and vandals leave the doors and windows open causing damage on the inside (Fowey Rocks has been secured now). The need to save these lighthouses as pieces of history now doubles to protect the reef. Should the lighthouses be left to decay the structures would fall on the reef causing damage that cannot be repaired.