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South Florida Aquatic Environments

Estuarine and Marine Waters



ESTUARINE AND MARINE WATERS
Florida Bay Aerial View
courtesy South Florida Water Management District

Florida Bay Aerial View


Estuarine and Marine Waters:

Introduction

  • Coastal prairies are located inland from the mud flats of the Florida Bay
Over 500 species of fish reside in waters off south Florida's shoreline while over twice as many fish species live in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Current. The richness in species diversity is due to the mixing of tropical and temperate species throughout this region as well as the varied marine environments including reefs, estuaries, mangroves, seagrass beds, and bays.

The Everglades sheet flow of water eventually drains into the Florida Bay to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the southwest. In these drainage areas, freshwater and seawater mix, creating brackish water estuaries. Organisms living in estuaries have adaptations to deal with the variations of salinity and temperature as well as tidal fluctuations and local weather patterns. The majority of recreationally and commercially caught fish, crustaceans, and shellfish spend at least part of their lives in these estuaries.


Florida Bay Mangroves
courtesy South Florida Water Management District
Florida Bay Mangrove

Florida Bay

Florida Bay is the largest body of water within the Everglades National Park, covering more than 1,100 square miles (2,850 square km) between the southern tip of Florida and the Florida Keys. Consisting of a series of shallow water basins, the bay is located on a shallow shelf where freshwater flowing from the Everglades mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico. The shoreline along Florida Bay supports mangrove forests with nearshore waters dotted with hundreds of mangrove islands. The bottom of the bay includes extensive seagrass beds and hardbottom reef habitat. Fresh surface water enters the bay via sheet flow and direct flow from Taylor Slough from the southern portion of the Everglades into Whitewater Bay. However, this flow of freshwater has greatly decreased over the past century due to the construction of a series of canals in the Everglades. Freshwater also enters the bay through rainfall, surface run-off, and groundwater. This mixing of saltwater and freshwater results in a salinity gradient across the entire bay, with salinities increasing from the north to the south. In recent years, the waters of Florida Bay have been hypersaline with salinities reaching over 35 parts per thousand (ppt).


Gulf Shoreline - Ten Thousand Islands
courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Gulf Shoreline

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico includes the westernmost coastal waters of the Everglades National Park. The dividing line separating the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay runs from Long Key northwest to Cape Sable. Shark River Slough carries freshwater from the western Everglades into the Gulf of Mexico, creating brackish water estuaries along the shore including mangrove swamps and tidal rivers as well as many small mangrove islands in an area referred to as the Ten Thousand Islands.