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Florida's Marine Environment
 
Artificial Reefs Coral Reef
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Estuary and Bay Communities
Estuaries (from a word meaning "boiling") are where rivers meet the sea. They are dynamic systems where waters are variably saltier and fresher. They constitute some of the most productive habitats in nature.

More than 70 percent of Florida's recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish spend part of their lives in these sheltered and fertile waters. Estuaries can be called "the cradle of the ocean."

Estuarine communities include seagrass, oyster bars, salt marshes, mud and sand bottom, and algal growths. Such valuable shellfish as oysters, crabs, and peneid shrimp cannot grow without a certain amount of freshwater.

About 70 percent of Florida's population live in the coastal zone. Therefore, the quality of water pouring into the estuaries is a major concern. Shellfish are filter feeders, straining their food from the water around them. If incoming water is tainted by bacteria and viruses from human and animal wastes, pesticides or other pollutants, oysters and clams that look perfectly healthy may transmit diseases.

Seagrass communities start in the intertidal zone and, depending on water clarity, may grow profusely to depths in excess of 20 feet. They are food factories, swarming with pinfish and pigfish, which are excellent food for gamefish. Bizarre puffers, sea robins, spotted seatrout, and cowfish dodge about in the sheltering blades of turtle grass. Catfish work the lower layer of the water column, along with juvenile sea bass and lizardfish. Grouper and snapper even use seagrass as their nurseries.

Important Phone Numbers
FL Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission  800-342-5367
Wildlife Alert  888-404-3922

To Report Injured Birds
Pelican Harbor Seabird Station  305-751-9840
Florida Keys Wild Bird Center  305-852-4486
Wildlife Rescue of Dade  305-235-5315
Conservancy of Southwest Florida  239-262-2273
Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary  727-391-6211
FL Wild Mammal Association  850-926-8308
Wildlife Rescue Coalition of NE FL  904-591-9585

Florida Springs
There are 320 springs in Florida, all located in the upper half of the state. Most were formed by waters that forced up deep fissures from underground rock deposits. These springs are extremely pure because the rocks act as a filter. Sometimes they are high in salts and minerals.

Oysters in Florida
In the early 1900's, the concept of oyster farming began with a state program by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture. To date, this organization has collected and planted more than 9.3 million bushels of shucked oyster shells from Cedar Key to Pensacola for commercial cultivation. The most productive area for oyster production is Apalachicola Bay which supplies 10 to 15 percent of the national total.

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mangroves are a part of the marine environment in florida

Wild Dolphins
Florida is home to a wonderful variety of dolphins, but be aware that the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the "taking" of marine mammals. The term "take" means to harass, hunt, capture, kill or feed, or attempt any of these activities. For the dolphins' sake, and for your safety, please don't feed, swim with or harass wild dolphins. To report abuse, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins
Dolphins can be found both inshore and offshore waters and even in larger rivers. Inshore they form family groups consisting of two to seven individuals. Offshore they may form groups of 100 or more. The Bottlenose dolphin is usually 8 to 12 feet long and weighs between 400 and 500 pounds. They need to breathe (through a blowhole on the top of their head) about every two minutes, but they can hold their breath for up to 12 minutes when they are diving for food. Dolphins are excellent swimmers and can reach speeds of up to 22 mph, although they generally cruise at about two mph. They eat fish, squid and marine invertebrates and will consume more than 20 pounds a day. In Florida, females give birth between May and August and will nurse the calf for eight to 24 months. The two may stay together for three to four years.

Coral Reefs
Florida is the only place in the continental United States where living coral reefs can be observed. Of all the ocean's habitats, coral reefs are the most colorful. They are built by millions of tine animals (coral polyps) and plants (coralline algae). Their skeletons are made of calcium carbonate, the main component of limestone. Learn more about Florida's Coral Reef.

Hazards
Portuguese man-of-war; These jelly-like animals are commonly found in the Gulf Stream of the northern Atlantic Ocean. If stung, wash with salt water and remove any tentacles. Soak the area with a solution of 50 percent each of vinegar and water for about 30 minutes. Rinse the area and then re-soak, using alcohol in place of vinegar.

Sea Lice; Season: March to August.
What to do if you're stung: Strip down, shower, towel dry and change to dry, loose-fitting clothing. Showering with swimming clothes on irritates the sea lice and could cause them to sting. Fully wash swim clothes and dry in dryer; sea lice can survive in air-dried suits.  Treatment: 1 percent hydrocortisone cream and oral antihistamines such as Benadryl. For severe cases, see a doctor.

 

Some text on this page provided by The Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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