Islandia, Florida

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Which is the smallest nonincorporated city in Florida? Which city in Florida has a population of 18? The answer to both questions is Islandia in the MiamiFort Lauderdale metro area of Miami Dade County. Very little else is known about Islandia, not even the gender division of the population.

What is known is why Islandia remained the way it is. This is a success story or a great failure, entirely depending on your point of view. Islandia is actually a collection of 33 coral islands, including 13 major islands, just north of Key Largo. Elliott Key is the largest and it was here that early settlers from Green Turtle Key, Bahamas acquired land to start large pineapple plantations. Before long, the settlers were growing key limes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes as well, to ship north.

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The idea for the City of Islandia probably germinated around 1951 but it was incorporated in 1960 to develop a resort town. Inspired by the success of other towns in South Florida, developers wanted to build a causeway across the bay from Key Biscayne, connecting all the Keys to Key Largo. They had plans for luxury hotels, golf courses, and oceanfront homes on the unpopulated keys. The coral reef islands were believed to be the next big thing in the real estate boom. Monroe County even offered their entire mainland to Miami Dade County for these islands, an offer that was refused.

Vicinity of Islandia

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At the same time, many Florida environmentalists who had seen the problems created to the sensitive coral reefs in other areas lobbied against the idea. The state legislator allowed the town to be incorporated but prevented any further development until the issue was resolved. Laws to protect the reefs increased. In 1968, President Johnson authorized funds to convert Islandia into the Biscayne National Monument. The federal government purchased all but five of the islands and they are now known as Biscayne National Park.

Thus, Islandia remained an unfulfilled dream; or a nightmare that almost occurred, depending on the perspective. Today it is not a functioning city and its population is small. There is no infrastructure or town official for years. There are no landfills, no schools, no traffic, and no roads on or leading to Islandia. During winter, visitors can access the islands by boat.

Just beyond these 33 pristine islands, submerged in transparently clear waters is the world’s third-largest coral reef. The seven-mile-long Elliott Key, just eight miles east of Homestead across Biscayne Bay, is covered with enduring thick tropical forests of hardwoods and broad-leaf green great mahoganies, gumbo-limbos, and native wild tamarinds. The delightful beds of moonflowers, which bloom only in the moonlight and entwining canopies of morning glory are a naturalist’s dream. The group of tropical islands is blessed with cool ocean breezes and warm Caribbean temperatures. You can spot a warbler or a Portuguese man-of-war on the shores. Truly, there is no other place like Islandia.

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