Iguanas are taking over Key Biscayne and residents are frustrated

Eileen Ortega, who has lived on Key Biscayne for 68 years, said she loves everything about her quiet life on the island. Everything but the iguanas, that is.

“They’re all over,” Ortega said. “For some of my neighbors, it is much worse.”

The invasive reptiles cause substantial damage by their burrowing, with some reaching as far as 80 feet below ground.

This summer, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent out a statement urging “homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible. Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on [many]  public lands in South Florida.”

Key Biscayne followed suit and, according to this document on the village website, iguanas can be captured in cages, euthanized humanely with the help of a veterinarian or via firearms after the police department has been contacted.

FWC Commissioner Rodney Barreto updated the commission’s original message with an additional statement in July. “Unfortunately, the message has been conveyed that we are asking the public to just go out there and shoot them up,” Barreto said. “This is not what we are about; this is not the ‘wild west.’ If you are not capable of safely removing iguanas from your property, please seek assistance from professionals who do this for a living.”

Key Biscayne Residents take up arms to defend their homes and gardens from iguanas on Oct. 20. The shooter asked not to be identified [Photo by Sofia Sanchez/SFMN]
This did not, however, stop “wild west” activity from ensuing. On Aug. 29, a Key Biscayne resident carrying a pellet rifle caused a flurry of panic by following an iguana near the main building of Key Biscayne K-8 Center, one of the island’s elementary schools, according to Ortega. All schools on the island went into lockdown and officers were called. The resident, Eric Schott, 57, was charged with one count of disorderly conduct, but the charges were dismissed at a hearing on Oct. 28.

Residents don’t know what’s next. Some have tried applying aluminum siding to their trees so the iguanas cannot climb them, and others have bought sprays advertised to deter the animals. Nothing works, Ortega says, and it’s only getting worse.

“I don’t know the answer,” Ortega said. “They have to do something. It is out of control.”

Key Biscayne Resident, Eileen Ortega, points to her orchid plants that iguanas have ravaged on Oct. 18. [Photo by Sofia Sanchez/SFMN]
Village of Key Biscayne Councilwoman Katie Petros says the council does not have a definitive solution. “We have set aside money in our budget to address the growing concern but we haven’t discussed or defined a program to remedy the issue,” Petros said.

As the council searches for a solution, residents continue to struggle. For many, the most pressing problem is the safety of their gardens, pools, and patios. Some residents have hired businesses like Iguana Control, a Fort Lauderdale-based company specializing in the trapping and removal of iguanas. The company’s CEO Tom Portuallo, says that the iguanas present a salmonella hazard to humans via their feces.

“The health risk with iguanas defecating either in or around pools is the number one threat,” Portuallo said. “Second is they undermine sea walls, patios and [cause] property damage.”

Sanchez is a journalism student at Florida International University. She has written for the school newspaper, where she had her own column. She has also published articles for marijuanastocks.com and coinstocks.com as part of a summer internship. She will be graduating in Spring 2020.