Florida's Marine Environment
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.