Scientific Studies on Dry Tortugas National Park: An Annotated Bibliography

by Thomas W. Schmidt, Marine Biologist, National Park Service, South Florida Natural Resource Center, Everglades National Park
and Linda Pikula, NOAA Regional Librarian, NOAA Miami Regional Library

Scientific Studies on Dry Tortugas National Park: An Annotated Bibliography [PDF]
View the full report [PDF]

Table of Contents

  1. Acknowlegements
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Purpose
  5. Methodology
  6. Literature Cited
  7. Related Links


This report has benefited from the help of many people over the past 6 years. The original project was prompted and supported by Dr. Michael Soukup during his tenure as Director of the South Florida Natural Resources Center. Wayne Landrum, Facility Manager and Carolyn Brown-Wiley, Chief Ranger at Dry Tortugas National Park provided logistical support and took special interest in providing guidance to the pertinent files at Fort Jefferson. Ray Bowers, John Strom, and Pat Craig of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. permitted us to search their Tortugas Laboratory files, assisted in duplicating activities, and provided insightful discussions and original photographs of the Marine Laboratory.

We thank George Stepney and Maria Bello of NOAA's Regional Library in Miami for acquiring many interlibrary loans. Special recognition goes to the staff of the South Florida Natural Resources Center including Marnie Lounsbury for photocopying and collating much of the Carnegie texts, Barry Wood who produced the map figures, and Mario Alvarado who expertly produced the author and subject indexes using PROCITE. Dr. William B. Robertson, Jr., United States Geological Survey/Biological Resources Division contributed numerous references and provided encouragement during the earliest stages of the project.

Valuable comments were provided by Elaine Collins of the NOAA Central Library, Silver Spring, MD and Bob Hamre, former technical editor for the US Forest Service, assigned to the Beard Center under the NPS "Volunteer-in-Parks." program.

Finally, our thanks to Carol Watts, Chief of the NOAA Libraries and Information Science Division, Janice Beattie, Chief of NOAA Libraries Public Services Division, Dr. Tom Armentano, Chief of Biological Resources, South Florida Natural Resources Center, and Dr. Caroline Rogers, United States Geological Survey/Biological Resources Division for their financial support and encouragement.


Dry Tortugas National Park, located 110 km west of Key West, Florida, is an elliptical, atoll-like, coral reef formation, approximately 27 km long and 12 km wide with shallow water depths ranging from 12-20 m in channels between reefs. In 1935, the area was designated Fort Jefferson National Monument, the World's first underwater National Park unit. Central to the area is Fort Jefferson, America's largest coastal nineteenth century masonry fort. In 1992 it was re-designated Dry Tortugas National Park. Because of the islands' unique location, the first tropical marine biological laboratory in the Western Hemisphere was established on Loggerhead Key by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D. C. Following the closure of the Tortugas Laboratory in 1939, aperiodic marine biological assessments have been conducted in response to man-made and natural environmental perturbations. This annotated bibliography is an attempt to provide researchers and resource managers with access to the rapidly accumulating body of information on the park's natural resources. A total of 424 references (published and unpublished) on scientific studies in, (and what later became) Dry Tortugas National Park were annotated and indexed according to major scientific topics. Studies from a wider area were included if they also sampled in Dry Tortugas National Park.


Seven small islands composed of coral reefs and sand in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, approximately 110 km west of Key West, Florida comprise Dry Tortugas National Park. The Tortugas, an area known for its bird and marine life and shipwrecks, are an elliptical, atoll-like, coral reef formation, approximately 27 km long and 12 km wide with water depths ranging from 12-20-m in channels between reefs.

The Dry Tortugas, discovered by the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon in 1513 and named The Turtles, Las Tortugas, were soon read on early nautical charts as "Dry Tortugas" to indicate they lacked fresh water. Central to the area and located on Garden Key is Fort Jefferson, America's largest coastal nineteenth century masonry fort. Work was begun in 1846 and continued for thirty years but was never finished. As part of the United States coastal fortification buildup after the War of 1812, Fort Jefferson was considered critical for protecting Gulf trade and ports (Murphy, 1993).

Following the Fort's use as a military prison during the Civil War (where the infamous Dr. Mudd was imprisoned after President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in 1865), and its abandonment by the Army in 1874, the area was proclaimed a wildlife refuge in 1908, to protect sooty tern rookeries from egg collectors. In 1935, the area was designated Fort Jefferson National Monument, the World's first underwater National Park unit. In 1992 it was redesigned Dry Tortugas National Park to preserve and protect both historical and natural features.

Early descriptive observers of Dry Tortugas natural resources include Louis and Alexander Agassiz during the 1850's, and the research vessel Blake in 1877 and 1878. Their visits resulted in a detailed map of the islands, and a description of benthic marine communities by Agassiz in 1888.

In 1903, Alfred G. Mayer, under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, recommended that a tropical marine biological research laboratory be established at the Tortugas (as opposed to other Caribbean sites) because of their isolation from continental land masses, lack of commercial fisheries, lush reefs, clear waters and proximity to the Gulf Stream. In 1904, Mayer selected Loggerhead Key as the site for Carnegie's Tortugas Marine Laboratory, the first tropical marine laboratory in the Western Hemisphere. Following the closure of the Laboratory in 1939, relatively few investigations were conducted in the Tortugas until the National Park Service (NPS) began in 1975, a series of cooperative, bench-mark studies to evaluate long-term changes in marine resources in combination with the earlier Carnegie Laboratory studies. Since the initial Tortugas Reef Atoll Continuing Transect Studies (TRACTS) work of 1975-76, aperiodic biological assessments have been conducted in response tdnmental perturbations.


The primary purpose of this annotated report is to provide researchers and resource managers with a readily accessible document on the rapidly accumulating body of information on the natural resources of the Dry Tortugas. With the recent implementation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, adjacent to the Park's boundary, there is a dire need for a scientific database that is centrally located, coherently organized, and directly related to the future and ongoing management and regulation of marine resource activities.

No complete bibliography of the scientific studies on the park's marine and terrestrial natural resources has been undertaken. In this report we have attempted to list published and unpublished reports from many fields which we feel will be useful as a starting point for natural science studies to be conducted at the Dry Tortugas for decades to come.


The present bibliographic database containing 424 references was compiled using PROCITE software, and covers the period of approximately 1878-1996, with the exception of one report dated 1820. Most 1996 papers were listed through August. Arrangement is alphabetical by senior author and title. Entries are numbered in sequence, and each includes a complete bibliographic citation with abstract or summary While some attempt has been made to achieve uniformity in style, in many cases the terminology, spelling, capitalization, and phraseology of the original author or abstractor have been retained. Abstracts obtained from the Carnegie Institution of Washington's publication citations were adapted from the author's summaries of results. This bibliography includes books, book chapters, scientific articles, theses and dissertations, workshop and conference proceedings, reports, and government publications. No attempt was made to include articles from newspapers or popular boating or sport magazines Several maps and charts are cited, however.

Research citations were indexed by broad fields of study, specialty sub-headings, and by both senior and joint authors. Each citation is listed under as many subject headings as is appropriate for the cited article. This cross indexing system was constructed using PROCITE.

The geographic boundaries for citations in this bibliography are that the work was done either completely or partially within the Park boundary, which is the 60' contour line. Recently, a few studies were undertaken adjacent to or on the Park boundary, they were included also. Although all Carnegie Institution of Washington published studies were included if they were conducted at the Dry Tortugas, those studies that were conducted and identified as solely in the "Gulf Stream" or at satellite marine laboratories in Jamaica, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, or in the tropical Pacific were not included.

A broad range of marine and terrestrial topics were found, including vegetation, marine algae, invertebrates, sea water composition, and geology. The major topics were sub-divided into those specialty areas that are shared most often among the studies examined. For example, sea water composition was sub-divided into salinity and temperature, the parameters measured most often. In many cases, inclusion or exclusion of a given reference within a major topic area or specialty sub-heading was a subjective decision.

Literature Searched

The bibliographic search was predominantly done at South Florida Natural Resources Center Library, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida, and at the NOAA Regional Library, Miami, Florida. No starting date was established for the references in this compilation. The senior author began assembling marine archival materials (e.g., raw data sheets, correspondence, maps, etc.) and published and unpublished research results from major scientific studies conducted by NPS scientists and contractors working at the Tortugas. Pertinent record files were also searched at Dry Tortugas National Park.

The Park Library contains a complete 35 volume set of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Tortugas Laboratory Papers. Volumes 1-6 were titled "Papers from the Tortugas Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington" (1908-1914), while volumes 7-14 were "Papers from the Department of Marine Biology of the Carnegie Institution of Washington" (1915-1926), Volumes 15-29 were issued as "Papers from Tortugas laboratory of Carnegie Institution of Washington" (1928-1936) and volumes 30-35 were titled "Papers from Tortugas Laboratory" (1936-1942). Each volume was given a separate publication number by the Carnegie Institution.

The Year Book Series of the Carnegie Institution, which contains annual summaries by individual investigators on observations and results obtained during their visits to the Tortugas, were searched at the University of Miami's Richter Library, Coral Gables, Florida. The Richter Library contains volumes 1-12, and 20-32. Copies of annual investigator reports for volumes 13-19 and 33-39 were obtained from the Carnegie Institute of Washington, Washington, D.C. In nearly all cases it was found that the principal investigators published their final evaluations and conclusions in "Papers", while the Year Book contained mostly duplicative, preliminary, or unsubstantiated observations. For these reasons, and due to time constraints, we decided to cite only Year Book contributions for investigators who did not complete and publish their conclusions in the "Papers" series. For example, W. H. Longley published in both series, but is only cited in this bibliography under "Papers" (however, his Year Book citations can be found in the "literature cited" section of his contributions to "Papers"). S. Yamanouchi, however, only published in the Year Book, and is cited here as such.

We searched documents regarding the Tortugas Laboratory during two visits to the Carnegie Institution in Washington D.C. Work conducted at the Tortugas Laboratory has been published in a wide range of journals. For example, a list of scientific writings produced by activities at the Laboratory during Mayer's directorship can be found in Papers Tortugas Laboratory 19:80-90. Many publications continued to appear in the literature following the closure of the Laboratory in 1939.

On-line database searches were conducted during 1993-96 at the NOAA Miami Regional Library. Subject index terms such as coral reef, geology, vegetation, marine algae, fish, etc., were used to search on a variety of DIALOG electronic databases including the following: BIOSIS PREVIEWS, Dissertation Abstracts, Oceanic Abstracts, SCISEARCH, Ei Compendex, INSPEC, and GEOBASE. These individual CD's were also searched: Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts, Life Sciences Collection, Earth Sciences, GeoRef, NTIS (National Technical Information Service), GPO (Government Publications Office), and the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) on-line catalog. Pertinent theses, dissertations, and journals identified in the abstracted literature were obtained via interlibrary loans.

This current compilation undoubtedly does not list all available literature that might be useful in conducting research, monitoring, and resource management of the park's natural resources. There may be as many as 100 additional scientific papers generated from the Carnegie era. We would greatly appreciate additional references to the Tortugas literature, and if a sufficient number of additional articles become available, we will produce an addendum to this report.

View the full report [PDF]