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. 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.
Turtle Mound, the tallest shell mound in the mainland United States, is an example of what it looks like when proactive measures are taken to preserve and monitor a coastal mound. But for this mound and hundreds of Indigenous cultural sites in Florida, archeologists are asking how long they can race against erosion.
Why should people care about the threat of sea level rise to Florida coastal cultural sites while dealing with present dangers like a global pandemic? What lessons can other coastal places draw from Florida?
From centuries-old cemeteries to indigenous shell mounds, we look at what historic and heritage sites mean to Floridians.