This series was originally published by The Marjorie. The series was supported by the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines Initiative and the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.
Photos by Jason Matthew Walker
For the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the island of Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay represents a history of oppression, as well as a testament to survival. In 2017, Egmont Key was highlighted as one of the most threatened historic properties in the state. It’s the first to be recognized as such due to threats of climate change and sea level rise. The island’s disappearance would be a major loss for the wildlife that live there as well as for recreational fishermen and boaters who frequent the area for its pristine views and abundant marine life. As the island slips into the sea, those who care about its future have to decide — what can we save and how do we save it?
Since European contact, Egmont Key has played a role in nearly every major U.S. historical period. In the 1800s, the U.S. Army used Egmont Key to imprison Seminole captives, and historians have described conditions on the island as a concentration camp. Over the last decade, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has launched a robust investigation into this period of Seminole removal to piece together and better understand this little-known chapter. But the window to document that history is quickly closing.
Egmont Key has lost more than half of its land mass since its first survey in 1877. Sea levels have risen here by nearly 8 inches, and projections estimate that seas could rise an additional 1 to 4 feet by 2100. While some worry that losing the island would be an incalculable loss to Gulf Coast Florida’s cultural heritage and ecological resources, others believe the best way to manage the island is to let nature run its course.
On August 16, 2022, The Marjorie joined members of the Seminole Tribe and Tribal staff on a boat trip to Egmont Key. Two young Seminoles, Mahala Billie Osceola and Carmello Shenandoah, joined as well. This was their first visit to Egmont Key. After the trip, Mahala and Carmello wrote a few words on what they learned about Seminole history and their experiences on the island.