Ballast Key
Ballast Key, a 14-acre island eight miles from Key West © T Greenfield Sanders


David Wolkowsky’s Ballast Key

Protected and managed by TNC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

Miami, FL

David Wolkowsky’s Ballast Key, a 14-acre island located in the clear blue and vibrant waters eight miles west of Key West, has been generously donated and will be forever protected through the commitment of The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge (Key West NWR). For more than two decades, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) worked closely with Mr. Wolkowsky to preserve the island’s natural and historical values. The partners are now collaborating to manage and conserve the island sanctuary and fulfill Mr. Wolkowsky’s vision to safeguard the subtropical gem and support marine and coastal scientific research and education. In recognition of Mr. Wolkowsky’s commitment to preservation and philanthropy, the Service is working to rename the island “David Wolkowsky Key.”

“David Wolkowsky’s incredible generosity and dedication to this special island ensures lasting protection and a legacy of conservation, which will benefit nature and wildlife, scientists, students, and the Florida Keys community,” said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “We look forward to the future of David Wolkowsky Key, and expect the science and conservation efforts that will be developed there to be impactful for years to come.”  

The island is home to many imperiled and endangered species of native plants and wildlife, and the shallow waters that surround the key teem with inhabitants of a healthy coral reef ecosystem including threatened and endangered sea turtles. Mr. Wolkowsky began his stewardship of the island in the early 1970s, carefully developing and managing the property in an environmentally sensitive way to ensure that he would be a good neighbor to the surrounding islands and marine resources of the National Wildlife Refuge and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. As a well-known and impactful public figure, developer, philanthropist, and visionary, he welcomed many guests to Ballast Key including Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Nancy Sinatra, Leonard Bernstein, and Prince Michael of Greece. Mr. Wolkowsky arranged to donate the island to protect it from a future of development and offer its wealth of natural resources and beauty to conservation purposes, prior to his passing at the age of 99 in September 2018.

“From the way the tides flow through the flats to the glimmers of migrating tarpon, this place was David’s home. He wanted it protected for generations to come. We’re honored to help carry out his legacy,” stated the Wolkowsky family.

Ballast Key is the final piece of the Key West NWR, established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as a preserve and breeding ground for nesting wading birds and other wildlife. The refuge consists of the Marquesas Keys and 13 other keys set in over 375 square miles of open water. For more than 110 years the refuge has been managed to preserve quality, character and integrity of these protected wilderness lands and open waters, and since that time, Ballast Key has been the only remaining private property within the refuge. The area from Ballast Key west, out to and including the Marquesas region, is remote, and a research facility on Ballast Key will enable additional study of the region.   

“David Wolkowsky was keenly aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation vision for the Florida Keys and wanted his legacy to be a part of that,” said Leopoldo Miranda, regional director for the Service's Southeast Region. “The donation of his Ballast Key completes the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The 14-acre key will be protected forever as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. I want to thank the Nature Conservancy for the awesome partnership we have and all of the work it has done to make this possible.”

The Nature Conservancy has a long history of conservation efforts across the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, from the headwaters of the Everglades to the Keys. In 2012, TNC contributed the first parcel of land to the brand new Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, and by completing the protection of the last in-holding in the Key West NWR, TNC continues its commitment to the conservation of the entire Everglades ecosystem. The organization’s work in protecting the Keys began in 1971 with the property that is now Lignum Vitae Key Botanical State near the Village of Islamorada. As of 2019, TNC has protected more than 7,700 acres, or more than 9% of the land in the Keys, through hundreds of individual land deals, mostly with federal, state and local government partners. Managing the island as a research facility furthers TNC’s goals and efforts towards coral reef protection and restoration, sea-level rise adaptation, and nature-based coastal resilience for coastal communities.

Please contact Fran Perchick (contact info listed at top of page) for photos and media assets for press use.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit  Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets,  watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.