Seahorse Key is a 165 acre island located in Levy County and is part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. It is a former dune, giving it a 52-foot elevation, which is unusual for the low-lying Cedar Keys area.
The island’s rich history includes thousands of years of human habitation and use. The study of shell middens on the island and surrounding region by University of Florida archeologists show that native Americans made ample use of the area’s rich estuary habitats, especially oysters, other seafood.
Although the islands were well known to early Cuban fishermen and English traders as a source of fresh water, it was timber-cruisers searching for promising forests in 1834-35 who recognized the significance of the islands. The present lighthouse at Seahorse Key was built in 1854 when the town of Cedar Key was the depot for all trade and communication up and down the Suwannee River. In 1862 Union forces from the U.S.S. Hatteras attacked the port and rail terminus at Cedar Key and destroyed all structures of military value at Seahorse Key. The light station was discontinued as a navigational beacon in 1915. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as a dormitory by groups who use the island for educational and research purposes.
In 1951 the University of Florida established a Marine Laboratory, which is leased for this purpose from the U.S. Department of Interior. The location of Seahorse Key provides access to diverse habitats including extensive marine grasses and algae, sandy beaches, mangroves, sand and mud flats, oyster bars, sponge-shell litter channels, and salt marshes. The upland forests are important as protected nesting areas for tens of thousands of wading birds including brown pelicans, ibis, egrets, cormorants, herons, and osprey. A tremendous variety of plants and animals inhabit the local marine and coastal habitats including 246 bird species; 11 amphibians and reptiles; 93 fish species; hundreds of invertebrates; and dozens of plants.