Dry Tortugas National Park closes after nearly 300 migrants land over 2-day span

Park expected to remain closed for several days

KEY WEST, Fla. – Dry Tortugas National Park closed Monday morning after scores of migrants arrived in the Florida Keys, and the park will remain closed for the time being.

Officials on Sunday said nearly 300 migrants arrived at the park over the past two days.

Law enforcement and medical personnel will evaluate and transport the migrants to Key West, officials said.

In a separate incident, authorities in the Florida Keys encountered 160 asylum seekers on Sunday. As of late Sunday afternoon, Border Patrol had responded to 10 migrant landings since midnight.

“More than 160 refugees have landed mostly in the Middle and Upper Keys, as well as many as 300 on the Marquesas Keys and at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas,” Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt confirmed Monday.

Linhardt said the agency “has been assisting federal law enforcement agents with a spike in Cuban refugee arrivals since Saturday and continuing into Monday morning.”

“Refugee arrivals require a lot of resources from the Sheriff’s Office as we help our federal law enforcement partners ensure the migrants are in good health and safe,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “Residents may see an increased amount of law enforcement and emergency responders throughout the county as we continue to respond to these landings.”

Local 10 News recently had exclusive access to a special team with U.S. Customs and Border Protection as the number of migrant landings on the islands west of Key West has increased.

“Like elsewhere in the Florida Keys, the park has recently seen an increase in people arriving by boat from Cuba and landing on the islands of Dry Tortugas National Park,” the National Park Service said in a news release. “Park first responders provide food, water and basic medical attention until the Department of Homeland Security arrives and takes the lead.

“While the park is closed, vessels may seek safe harbor in the designated areas within the one nautical mile anchoring zone around Garden Key, including Bird Key Harbor. There will be no visitor services available while the closure is in effect and emergency services will be extremely limited.”

According to Linhardt, Border Patrol officials have notified the sheriff’s office that “some migrant landings may have to wait for federal resources to arrive until the following day, aggravating the mass migration crisis in the Keys.”

“This federal failure is creating a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” Ramsay said.

Monroe County residents who spot migrants arriving are urged to contact the sheriff’s office.

Dry Tortugas National Park is expected to remain closed for several days.

For the latest information, click on the “alerts” section on the park website.

About the Authors:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.