78. Turtle Kraals

Historic Marker number 78 is located at 200 Margaret Street on the Thompson Pier.

As long as humans have inhabited the Florida Keys, turtles have been a valuable and much sought after food source. Some of the first recorded history of the turtle population came from Ponce de Leon's exploration of Florida in 1513. His travels took him through what is now known as the Dry Tortuga's. His three small ships captured 160 green turtles to fortify their food rations for the unknown voyage ahead of them. He named the area "Las Tortugas" which is Spanish for "the turtles".

The earliest maps of Key West show Turtle Kraals along the shores of Key West. Kraals take their name from the Dutch African word "corral". The kraals were a convenient way to store captured turtles in the water until they were needed for meat, eggs, soup or destined for further transport.

This small wooden turtle processing and canning building located next to the pier between the remains of two kraals had easy access to the pier, turtle trawlers, and the Over-Sea Railroad. It was here that, when needed, turtles could be hoisted from the kraals and processed , canned or packed for market.

Kraals consist of shallow water enclosures with wood poles driven into the bay bottom at intervals close enough to keep the turtles in and yet far enough apart to allow water to flow freely through the enclosure. In this case you can see the remnants of concrete pillars, built in the 1920's, that were used to keep captured turtles at bay.

The greenish colored fat processed from the turtles was a prized ingredient in the preparation of turtle soup. The cannery produced cans of soup prized in restaurants throughout the country and Europe.

Soup canning ran from 1912 until 1957 when it was eventually discontinued and operations were moved to New York.

Over the years the turtle population plummeted in the Keys and South America.

Thanks to size limits and the Endangered Species Act passed in 1971, the turtle population has begun to recover. The turtle kraals and soup cannery building ceased operations in 1971.

On June 23, 1994 this historic site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The cannery building is currently a turtle museum operated by the Mel Fisher Museum located at Historic Marker.