On 10 September 2017, Hurricane Irma crossed over the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane. The eye of the storm passed through Cudjoe Key — just east of Big Pine Key and No Name Key. Big Pine, No Name, and Cudjoe Keys collectively form my favorite little stretch of the Florida Keys. Not too overly developed with tourist traps… and just enough mangrove coastline to keep this swamp-rat more than occupied. Well, at least that’s how it used to be on the latter front.
A few days ago, I sojourned back south to the Florida Keys for the first time since Hurricane Irma blew the region apart. The remnant scars of Hurricane Irma were staggering nearly eleven months after the storm’s initial impact. Though the region has done remarkable work in its recovery, I was struck by how devastated the mangrove forests were. Not surprised, perhaps, but viscerally shocked nonetheless. Mangroves are biologically and structurally adapted to withstand hurricanes and storm surge, but the brute force of Irma was just too much of a hit. Irma was truly a devastating force of nature.
I’d left my home in Ormond Beach around 11pm on Wednesday night and arrived at No Name Key just in time for sunrise on Thursday morning. The plan was to watch the sunrise from my favorite little nook at No Name Key and to then spend much of the day romping about the area on both land and in water. I wanted to test my iPhone X’s underwater capabilities and also do a bit of lizard surveying to see what’s where in this part of the Keys. You never know what shakes out in the long-term wake of a hurricane.
Though much of that did in fact occur (as we’ll see in subsequent posts), I must admit the morning started with a bit of a grim undertone. Again, the wreckage of the mangrove forests was truly breathtaking, sad, and somewhat miserable. The neighborhoods, shops, and utility services of humanity will all be back online well before these mangrove habitats restore themselves to what they once were. Fortunately, however, the level of damage featured below wasn’t widespread across the entirety of the Florida Keys. In fact, even in this specific area the worst of the damage seemed to be on the southern portions of the islands — the direction from which the hurricane and storm surge moved in, through, and over the islands. It was truly a humbling sight — even for a guy who’s seen his fair share of hurricane and tropical storm action. It was the mangrove version of the ghost town mythos.
Coming up, we’ll scamper about this portion of the Florida Keys a bit more — looking for both lizards in the trees and marine life in the water. Then we’ll head back north to the southern reaches of the Floridian peninsula — deep into the vast swath of awesome that is the Everglades System.
If you’d like to read more about Hurricane Irma, check out’s NOAA’s Tropical Storm Cyclone Report for Hurricane Irma (in PDF format).
NOTE: Though I didn’t photograph any, I did see an abundance of Key deer on both Big Pine and No Name Keys. They are most certainly still there and in good number — Hurricane Irma be damned. Long live the Key Deer!