Native Flora and Fauna
- Flora changes from macroalgae in fresh and brackish waters to seagrass and mangroves as salinity increases
The freshwater habitats of the Everglades are dominated by marsh and slough flora, however the flora changes moving downstream where the freshwater mixes with seawater. Transitional macroalgae species including Chara hornemanni and Batophora oerstedi are common, preferring salinities from 0-10 parts per thousand (ppt).
Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) also prefers waters of low salinities. As salinities increase, Acetabularia crenulata, Caulerpa verticillata, and Udotea wilsoni become the dominant macroalgae along with shoal grass replacing widgeon grass. Mangrove forests and islands are also common along the shoreline and just offshore in estuarine waters.
Past the intertidal zone, turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) becomes the dominant seagrass, forming extensive meadows that provide habitat and shelter for a diversity of marine organisms.
- Commercially important species including shrimp and lobsters reside inhabit estuarine waters
Extensive seagrass meadows within Florida Bay serve as important habitat for a variety of species including invertebrates such as the pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) and spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).
Hermit crabs (Pagurus spp.) and stone crabs (Menippe mercenaria) also live within the seagrass flats while fiddler crabs (Uca spp.), isopods, and barnacles (Balanus balanoides) reside in the intertidal zones.
Within Florida Bay, there are limited areas of hardbottom reef. These communities generally have low diversity and are dominated by octocorals, algae, sponges, and a few stony coral species. Hardbottom habitats provide important cover and feeding areas for many fish and invertebrates.
The Gulf of Mexico provides an ideal habitat for oysters (Crassostrea virginica) due to its hard bottom substrate.
- Shallow waters of Florida Bay offer protection to juvenile fish from open water predators
Many commercially and recreationally important fish reside in Florida Bay during at least part of their life history, migrating offshore to spawn. The fertilized eggs develop into larvae and are transported to estuaries and bays by currents and tides. The seagrasses, mangroves, and shallow waters offer protection from open water predators. Gamefish that are commonly found in the marine and estuarine waters of the Everglades include both tropical and temperate species.
Common game fish:
- Ladyfish (Elops saurus)
- Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus)
- Bonefish (Albula vulpes)
- Common snook (Centropomus undecimalis)
- Goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara)
- Crevalle jack (Caranx hippos)
- Gray (mangrove) snapper (Lutjanus griseus)
- Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)
- Spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)
- Black drum (Pogonias cromis)
- Red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
- Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)
- Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorous maculatus)
Common non-game fish:
- Scaled sardine (Harengula jaguana)
- Atlantic thread herring (Opisthonema oglinum )
- Hardhead catfish (Arius felis)
- Inshore lizardfish (Synodus foetens)
- Gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta)
- Hardhead halfbeak (Chriodorus atherinoides)
- Silverstripe halfbeak (Hyporamphus unifasciatus)
- Redfin needlefish (Strongylura notata)
- Goldspotted killifish (Floridichthys carpio)
- Rainwater killifish (Lucania parva)
- Fringed pipefish (Anarchopterus criniger)
- Dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae)
- Gulf pipefish (Syngnathus scovelli)
- Silver jenny (Eucinostomus gula)
- Tidewater mojarra (Eucinostomus harengulus)
- Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)
- Striped mullet (Mugil cephalus)
- White mullet (Mugil curema)
- Fantail mullet (Mugil gyrans)
- Clown goby (Microgobius gulosus)
Fish residing in Florida Bay and surrounding habitats are either permanent residents, seasonal residents, or visitors. The permanent residents are small fish such as the emerald clingfish (Acytrops beryllina) and pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides). Seasonal residents are fish that spend part of their life in Florida Bay, usually as juveniles. The spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), silver perch (Bairdiella chrysoura), and pigfish (Orthopristis chrysopterus) as well as many other species are included in this group.
In the northern reaches of Florida Bay, the waters are influenced by freshwater from the Everglades watershed. During the wet season, flooding of the Everglades brings freshwater and slough fish into the Bay. Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), sunfish (Lepomis spp.), catfish (Ictalurus spp.), sailfin mollies (Poecilia latipinna), mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki), and least killifish (Heterandria formosa) are occasional visitors to this area. However, as the flooding recedes, these fish retreat upstream to remain in freshwater.
They are quickly replaced by marine fish including stingrays (Dasyatis spp.), needlefish (Stongylura notata), jacks (Caranx spp.), and goliath grouper (Epinephelus itajara) as salinity increases within the estuary.
Amphibians and Reptiles
- Estuarine and marine waters are home to many endangered and threatened species including the American crocodile and American Alligator as well as four species of sea turtles
As the most northern of its range, the Florida Bay is home to the American crocodile(Crocodylus acutus). This endangered species feeds on mullet within the waters of the bay. Sanctuaries for crocodiles have been set aside at Little Madeira Bay and Joe Bay.
The American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) coexists with the American crocodile in estuarine habitats and is currently listed as threatened.
Endangered sea turtles, including the Atlantic hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Atlantic ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), also reside in these waters and nest on associated beaches.
The threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) has been observed nesting on the beaches of Cape Sable.
- Estuarine and marine habitats provide habitat and nesting areas for many birds
This habitat is home to wading and probing shorebirds, oceanic birds, and diving birds. The roseate spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), reddish egret (Egretta refescens), double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and black-crowned night heron (Botaurus lentiginosus) are all known to nest within the habitats surrounding Florida Bay.
Other birds commonly observed include:
Shoreline birds include the willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Wilson's plover (Charadrius wilsonia), and the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).
- Dolphins and manatees reside in the waters of Florida Bay
Bottlenose dolphins (Turiops truncatus) and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) are common in the waters of Florida Bay.
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) and other small mammals search for food along the waters edge.
Glossary terms on page:
- estuary: area where freshwater meets the sea, creating a salinity gradient from pure freshwater (0 ppt) to full-strength seawater (35 ppt).
- intertidal: the area also known as the littoral zone which is covered by water during high tide and exposed at low tide.
- diversity: refers to the variety of species within a given association, areas of high diversity are characterized by a great variety of species.
- octocoral: coral type that includes sea plumes, sea whips, gorgonians, and soft corals.
- substrate: the material upon or within an organism lives or grows, including soil, plants, animals and rocks.
- slough: swamp bog or marsh, especially one that is part of an inlet or backwater.
- larvae: immature form of an animal that undergoes metamorphosis prior to changing into the adult form.
- tropical: tropical zone lies between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator, has small seasonal changes in temperature and large seasonal changes in precipitation.
- temperate: temperate zone lies between 30 and 60 degrees latitude, climate undergoes seasonal changes in temperature and moisture.
- salinity: concentration of total salts dissolved in water, usually measured in parts per thousand.
- endangered species: a species in danger of becoming extinct that is protected by the Endangered Species Act.