Archaeological evidence shows
proto-historic native Key Westers relied heavily on seat urtles as a survival food source.
Ponce de Leon, in 1513, mentions the turtles in an account of his travels through the area. Ponce de Leon observed that the waters were so full of loggerhead turtles that he named the islands “Tortugas”, which is
Spanish for turtles.
Local lore suggests that the cannery may have been the first pay-to-see attraction in Key West, as the turtle wranglers, sensing a financial opportunity, charged a 10-cent viewing fee as early as 1890.
Picture postcards and stereo view cards have documented the attraction of people to the turtles in Key West for the last hundred years.
Turtle fishing in the Florida Keys nearly wiped out the local species in the early 1900s. Conservation and rescue efforts, which began in the 1950s, have seen some positive impact including promoting awareness, protecting habits, and tagging for research and study.
The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum was asked in 2000 to organize an effort to recover artifacts that might be lost by an impending dredge of the turtle kraals. Wet muck was hauled to a nearby vacant lot where museum staff and volunteers sifted through muddy soil discovering thousands of archaeological objects and turtle bones. This research has expanded the understanding of Key West’s working waterfront in the 20th century.