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Florida’s Bird Key Island Listed for Sale at $31.5M, Causing ‘Alarm’

Florida’s Bird Key Island is up for sale at $31.5 million, putting the future of this centuries-old wildlife sanctuary in jeopardy.

Originally owned by wealthy businessman Charles Deering, Bird Key is one of only two natural islands in upper Biscayne Bay. Real estate investors Finlay Matheson and Edward Easton bought it in the mid-1980s for just $36,000, intending to transform the 37.5-acre private island into an official bird sanctuary. The island has been a crucial habitat for native bird species such as egrets, cormorants, herons, and pelicans since at least 1770.

Matheson has now decided to sell the island. The listing, published by Miami real estate agent Audrey Ross, describes the sale as a “golden opportunity for a developer…or a very lucky individual who may create Miami’s most exclusive address.” It highlights Bird Key as an uninhabited 4-acre island in Biscayne Bay, boasting views of Miami’s skyline, pristine blue waters, and no traffic or people.

Bird Key Island Miami
“There’s lots of activity on the market,” Matheson told the Miami New Times. “Now’s the time.”

Since the island was listed on April 26, conservationists have voiced concerns that the high price will attract only wealthy developers or private buyers, rather than nonprofits or state agencies dedicated to preserving the habitat. Christopher Boykin, a local conservationist and former executive director of Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, expressed alarm, noting the island’s historical significance as a bird rookery until 2020.

“Right now, it’s a natural island as it’s been for centuries, and to see it turned into condos would be a blight on our community,” Boykin told The Guardian. The listing suggests that the island could be used for environmental mitigation or donated to the public as an environmental treasure, but Boykin doubts the feasibility of these options at the asking price of $31.5 million.

Lauren Jonaitis, senior conservation director at the Tropical Audubon Society, told Newsweek she was “alarmed by the prospect of development,” stressing Bird Key’s importance as a habitat for marine birds.

Despite these concerns, Matheson remains confident about the island’s future and encourages interested buyers to act quickly.

Bird Key was designated for county acquisition under Miami-Dade’s Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program for decades, aimed at protecting the island and its wildlife. Matheson mentioned in 2019 that he never received offers from the county. However, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava contradicted this, stating an offer was made as recently as last year but was rejected.

Bird Key Island Miami
“My administration has been closely following the process at Bird Key and made a purchase offer that unfortunately did not meet the owner’s expectations,” Levine Cava said. “Biscayne Bay is both a recreational oasis and an economic engine for our county, but it is also home to some of Florida’s most iconic species. We are eager to find alternatives, including state or federal support, to purchase this property and expand our Biscayne Bay protection programs.”

Jonaitis hopes for government, private, and nonprofit support to facilitate a conservation solution. She wishes the Matheson family would negotiate to protect this vital habitat permanently, suggesting involvement from organizations like the Nature Conservancy, Audubon Florida, and the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Coalition.

Boykin mentioned hearing rumors about conservationists attempting to engage the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or Miami-Dade County to buy the island, offering a glimmer of hope that the island will remain in its natural state.

Matheson confirmed that no offers have been made by the county or DEP since the property was listed.

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