The Dry Tortugas were just another group of sub-tropical islands until Ponce de Leon stumbled upon these seven small islands in 1513 and gave them their name. There was quite an abundance of sea turtles, and Tortugas is Spanish for turtle. Later explorers who encountered the Dry Tortugas added the word dry to indicate there was no fresh water to be found here.
The Dry Tortugas became part of the Spanich colonial empire after de Leon claimed the area for his mother country. And there it remained until 1821 when the United States officially acquired Florida and the Florida Keys from the Spaniards. But before that period, the Dry Tortugas served as a vantage point for raids on the Spanish ships and settlements. Dutch and English ships frequently sent fleets out to the Dry Tortugas to battle the Spanish ships. The islands also became a haven to pirates and temporary home to men stranded there by wrecks.
The pirates and other shady types were driven out by the US after the 1820, in a move to make the area safer for shipping. The start of building of the Dry Tortugas Fort in 1846 was also driven by commerce.
All around The Dry Tortugas there are healthy coral reefs and tons of marine life. There are also sea grass beds and far-reaching lagoon environments. These areas are habitat for fish and coral and all types of flora and fauna native to the Florida Keys. There are almost 450 species of fish found at the Dry Tortugas, most of which need the reef environment to live. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Dry Tortugas is the protection of the marine ecology.