A violent hurricane swept through this area in 1920, transforming Passage Key, a mangrove island containing a freshwater lake, into a meandering, slightly vegetated sandbar. Situated within one of three refuges comprising the Tampa Bay Refuges, Passage Key Wilderness stands at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where it faces the full force of storms off the Gulf of Mexico. In the last few years, erosion has erased most of the island. At low tide, small portions of the island will still occasionally rise above the waterline.
This one island represented Tampa Bay's last remaining nesting site for laughing gulls, black skimmers, and royal terns. However, with no more land being above water on a regular basis, there is no more bird breeding on the island. Easily accessible by boat from the Tampa/Saint Petersburg Metropolitan sprawl, Passage Key has been inundated with humans to the point where the island had to be closed to all visitation. You must observe the key from a distance of at least 200 feet.
Closed Wilderness Area
Ten of the National Wilderness Preservation System's 803 wilderness areas are closed to access and use by the general public. Most of these closed areas are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The core mission of the Service's National Wildlife Refuge System is conservation of native fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. The Passage Key Wilderness, part of the Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge, is closed to visitation to protect wildlife and other natural, cultural, and/or other resources consistent with the conservation purpose(s) of the refuge. Wilderness designation provides an additional level of protection for the wilderness portion of this refuge, but does not open the area to public access or use.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.