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Biscayne National Park: 10,000 Years of Human History

The Biscayne National Park was created because of its natural history. Everywhere you go, you'll see signs of people and the many ways they have used these waters and lands. If you dive under the waters, you'll observe shipwrecks that tell how violent times were in the past and the islands show evidence of the native peoples who once walked the land.

You can also hear the story of how and why the park was established from storytellers who actually made it happen.

There are over 10,000 years of human history to be discovered and learned in the Biscayne National Park. This area is one you will want to spend time at as it offers one of Florida's best opportunities to learn about the area's prehistory.

History of Humans in the Biscayne National Park

The history of humans in the Biscayne National Park dates back more than 10,000 years. It began when the Paleo Indians migrated from the Florida Peninsula. You can find evidence of their campsites at the Old Cutter fossil site along the bay's shoreline. The area during their time is guessed to have been a broad, dry savannah. It served them well as a hunting place for mastodons, mammoths, and other animals during this time period.

The Biscayne Bay was filled in when the ice age ended and waters rose. Several thousand years following the Paleo-Indian's inhabitance there is little evidence of any other native people living in the area. The evidence could have been submerged that would support other inhabitants however, as archaeologists believe it could be found at the bottom of the Biscayne Bay.

Later in time, 2,500 years ago, the Glades culture inhabited the area and evidence found shows these people were more settled and less nomadic. Discarded conch have been discovered and evidence shows whelk shells began to grow during this period. Archaeologists have learned much about the culture from these shell middens.

Settlements began to split from one another and populations increased. More distinct cultures began to emerge as people learned how to make pottery and established trade among others. The people during this era began to be called the Tequesta.

Aerial view of Key Biscayne National Park and the beach in Florida

The Tequesta enjoyed and took advantage of what the sea had to offer them. While other people in the United States during this time relied heavily on crops, such as corn, the Tequesta relied on what they could take from the waters, which gave them more time to focus on religion and art.

European explorers arrived around the 16th century, which led to the beginning of the end for Florida's native peoples. Measles and smallpox came with the Europeans, which swept through the native people in epidemic proportions. Indigenous people were nearly completely wiped out from these diseases by the mid-1700s.

The Creeks from Alabama and Georgia began their expansion in the area around this time, into what today is known as Florida. From this expansion came tribes such as the Miccosukee and Seminole.

The Biscayne National Park is your best and perhaps the last chance to gain a fuller understanding of this prehistory. Much of the native human heritage in Florida is now buried beneath the buildings and roads of Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and other surrounding communities.

Ecosystems Found in Biscayne National Park

The Biscayne National Park has four recognizable ecosystems:

  • The shallow waters of the Biscayne Bay - In the waters of the Biscayne Bay, you'll see adult and immature fish, sponges, manatees, seagrass beds, and soft corals.

  • The shoreline of the mangrove swamp - The shoreline in the mangrove swamps is a nursery for juvenile and larval fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.

  • The offshore Florida Reef - The offshore reefs harbor more than 200 species of fish, hard corals, whales, and pelagic birds

  • The coral limestone keys - The coral limestone keys are engulfed with tropical vegetation, which includes endangered palms and cacti. The beaches along the keys are nesting grounds for the endangered sea turtle.

Beautiful Biscayne National Park vista from Black Creek Trail

The Biscayne National Park is home to sixteen endangered species. These endangered species include:

  • Smalltooth sawfish
  • Green sea turtles
  • Hawksbill sea turtles
  • Manatees
  • Schaus' Swallowtail butterflies
  • The threatened American crocodile and alligators

The Biscayne National Park had first been proposed to be included in the Everglades National Park. This proposal was removed to make sure the Everglades' establishment. During the 1960s there were proposals to develop the area in the same manner as Miami Beach. After two fossil-fueled power plants along with two nuclear plants were constructed in the area, a backlash occurred to prevent further developments. The Biscayne National Monument was created in 1968 to preserve the area. In 1980 the area was expanded and re-designated the Biscayne National Park.

Biscayne National Park Today

When you visit the Biscayne National Park today, you will get the feeling you are worlds away from everything. You can enjoy wildlife, snorkeling, boating, or look through evidence found of more than 10,000 years of human history.

The Biscayne National Park is ninety-five percent water, and there are incredible opportunities to explore its beauty and magic. Boating offers you the opportunity to visit living coral reefs or discover emerald islands. You also have the choice of paddle-boarding, kayaking, or snorkeling to explore along the mangrove-fringed shorelines.

Adventure, exploring, discovering, and more await you in this incredible piece of land supporting so much human history.

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