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By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000
This unique barrier island that guards the mouth of Tampa Bay also is a critical nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles and numerous threatened and endangered species of migratory shorebirds.
Even though there is no public transportation to the 400-acre island, thousands of people visit Egmont Key every year. It is an important stopover for recreational anglers and boaters, as well as birders and other nature lovers.
Federal officials declared Egmont Key a national wildlife sanctuary in 1974. For thousands of years it has been a haven to animal life, including the gopher tortoise, a species of special concern.
Island environments such as Egmont's are particularly vulnerable to outside influences. Take, for example, Egmont's mammal population. All of the naturally occurring mammals -- bats, mice, rabbits and raccoons -- have disappeared because of feral cats.
Barrier islands such as Egmont Key are rare, occurring in fewer than 10 percent of the world's coastal waters. Most barrier islands continually change shape, like shifting sandbars, but Egmont is different. A firm bed of limestone supports the north end of the land mass and keeps the shape of the key relatively stable.
In addition to its natural wonders, Egmont Key has historical significance. During the Third Seminole War, captured Seminoles were imprisoned there. It also served as a Union Naval base during the Civil War.
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