Wildlife in Biscayne National Park

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By: Jennifer Agress

Less than an hour from Miami’s urban center, Biscayne National Park shows visitors another side of the destination – one hidden in the blue waters and dense sea beds of Biscayne Bay. Spanning 173,000 acres, 95 percent of this park is actually underwater. Biscayne National Park has four important ecosystems: the longest stretch of mangrove forest on Florida's east coast, the southern expanse of Biscayne Bay, the northernmost part of the Florida Keys and a portion of the world’s third-longest coral reef, the Florida Reef. Within these ecosystems, visitors will find hundreds of wildlife species they might not see anywhere else.

Best explored by boat, this world-class fishing destination is a water lover’s playground. It offers a world of colorful coral reefs, six shipwrecks and unique underwater plants and animals. On the islands that dot the park, there’s plenty to do for all ages and interests – from bird watching and climbing the Boca Chita Key lighthouse to camping on remote Elliott Key.

Wildlife

Both on land and underwater, Biscayne National Park’s abundant wildlife will impress you. Living among its diverse ecosystems are more than 600 species of native fish and sea life, neotropical water birds and more than 30 threatened and endangered animal species. 

Read below to learn about some of the wildlife you might see when you visit Biscayne National Park.

Manatees

Manatee sightings are most common in winter, when temperatures get cooler and these endangered animals head toward land to find warmer, more shallow waters. For your best chance at a manatee sighting, look in the water outside the Dante Fascell Visitor Center or in the park’s freshwater canals. 

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins 

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are no stranger to Biscayne National Park’s waters. Go out on a boat and watch them play in your wake. Dolphins usually travel in pods of two to 15 and are commonly spotted jumping deep in Biscayne Bay or around Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key. 

Brown Pelicans

These large water birds are common in Biscayne National Park. Look for them in the park’s coastal mangroves, on Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key and around Fowey Rocks Lighthouse and Pacific Reef Lighthouse. During low tide, head to the jetty at Convoy Point and you might spot some perched on the exposed rocks, waiting to swoop in and catch a fish. 

Upside-Down Jellyfish

As the name implies, this jellyfish sits on the sea floor with its belly up and tentacles pointing toward the sky. Find these native creatures resting in sparkling Jones Lagoon and in the Keyhole, a circle of underwater limestone reefs near Sands Key.

Schaus Swallowtails

The federally protected Schaus Swallowtail is a large butterfly with black and brown wings, yellow markings and an orange patch under its hind wings. This butterfly is unique for its ability to stop flying in mid-air and fly backward to avoid predators. Sightings depend on the time of year, as adult butterflies only fly during the summer rainy season. Within Biscayne National Park, Schaus Swallowtails live only on Elliott Key.

For both personal safety and environmental preservation, please remember to keep a safe distance from all animals in Biscayne National Park. 

Visiting Biscayne National Park

The main entrance to Biscayne National Park is the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in Homestead. Contact the park ahead of your visit to confirm normal operating hours and availability of nature programs.

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