The Cedar Keys form a chain of barrier islands containing bays, marshes, rivers and creeks that have remained almost totally in their primitive state. Thirteen of these islands comprise the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge.
The biggest nearby city, Cedar Key, is located on Way Key in Levy County, Florida. Originally founded in 1842 as a resort for wealthy planters the island became the center for pencil manufacturing. There are many juniper trees on the island, which were used by the pencil companies and were misidentified as cedars, hence the name ‘Cedar Key’. Today Cedar Key is known for its multi-million dollar clam aquaculture industry. The islands are visited by tourists who come to enjoy the excellent fishing, bird watching and nature trails. In the spring months, the beaches are filled with horseshoe crabs coming to lay their eggs. At the same time, red knots, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones and black bellied plovers stop by to consume the eggs for approximately 6-8 weeks before continuing migration to the Artic to breed. The islands are also visited by a number of other migratory and shore birds, including the white pelican, roseate spoonbill and bald eagle.