The miniature Key deer and the Lower Keys marsh rabbit may have gained some additional footing last week after Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet approved the purchase of a vacant strip of land, mostly cradled in conservation lands, at the intersection of Pirates Road and the Overseas Highway between Mile Markers 22 and Mile Marker 23 on Cudjoe Key.

The 2.85-acre land includes 12 contiguous lots and parallels a plugged canal. It sold for $540,000 and will be added to the Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area through the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Forever land acquisition program. The area contains rockland hammock, salt marsh and mangrove wetlands, all of which are habitat for rare and threatened plants and animals.

“These essential land and conservation easement acquisitions are important to protecting Florida’s rich natural areas and will preserve Florida’s critical ecosystems,” DeSantis said. “Since Day One, my administration has prioritized protecting and restoring Florida’s environment and natural resources.”

State groups and conservationists wrote in support of the purchase and are now applauding it.

“Audubon is excited to celebrate the protection of some of Florida’s best remaining natural treasures,” said Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida. “Florida Forever’s transparent, accountable, science-based process ensures the public can be confident the most important places are being protected for a reasonable price, and willing sellers can be confident their projects are evaluated on their merits. The projects approved by the governor and Cabinet are validation of this program, its values and the importance of Florida’s environment to our state’s prosperity.”

Audubon Florida works to protect native and migratory bird habitat in the Keys. Kelly Cox, director of Everglades Policy, applauded the purchase as well.

“Acquisition of this property will increase habitat connectivity and provide natural corridors for fish and wildlife to pass between and among conservation lands,” she said. “The site contains tropical hardwood hammock, mangrove forests and salt marshes. These natural communities are home to numerous state and federally listed species, including reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, Lower Keys marsh rabbit, silver rice rat, white-crowned pigeon, mangrove cuckoo, American crocodile, West Indian manatee and many others. Conservation lands like this are critical in the Florida Keys and we are excited to see this land acquisition moving forward.”

Chris Eggleston, manager for the National Key Deer Refuge, also praised the land purchase.

“This will be conservation property and our missions dovetail together. It works out well for all of us,” he said. “It’s a neat piece of land and an important chunk for the state to have gotten. It completes their conservation area over there. Key deer can definitely be in that area. There’s a low concentration of people in that area.”

The Cudjoe Key purchase is one of 10 state land and conservation easements this year totaling more than 17,000 acres.