The 220 mile long chain of limestone islands that extends from the southern tip of the Florida mainland to the Dry Tortugas is known as the Florida Keys. They are islands that formed approximately 125,000 years ago by sand bars, coral reefs, and rising sea levels. Around 100,000 years ago, the formations were exposed due to a drop in sea level during the last ice age. These sand bars and reefs became fossilized, and eventually hardened into the Florida Keys as we know them today.
According to NOAA’s website, “the Florida land mass was much larger than it is today and the area now referred to as Florida Bay was forested. As glaciers and polar ice caps started melting 15,000 years ago, flooding of land combined with tidal influence changed the geography of the Keys and their surrounding areas”.
The Spanish settlers originally referred to these islands as “cayos”. The British generally used the word "cay" to mean small islands, and it eventually became "Key" for us Americans. Some say the first documented use of "key" is in a lawsuit (for a shipwreck) in 1744.
Today, the Florida Keys are a stunning location for travelers, beachgoers, and naturalists alike. Surf You to the Moon has the privilege of offering you the opportunity to snorkel through mangroves, coral reefs, and explore a variety of majestic wildlife. Mangrove forests exist in the coastal channels of Florida, covering nearly 1,800 miles of shoreline. The word “Mangrove” refers to, generally, the species of salt-resistant plants that can survive along the tip of South Florida.
So, why are Mangroves so special?
Similar to coral reefs, mangroves offer an extremely productive ecosystem for an array of aquatic creatures. Fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and shrimp can all thrive in this unique nursery, and all these species are critical for Florida’s commercial fishing industry. The mangrove roots allow for a protective maze for smaller species and prevent larger fish from easily maneuvering through and picking off individual juveniles. The thicket acts as a home for a variety of threatened species including: Loggerhead Sea Turtles, West Indian Manatees, Southern Bald Eagles, and the American Crocodile.
Globally, coastal communities still rely on mangroves as a source of food. Indigenous groups utilize the mangrove wood for fuel and construction, as well as medicinally. The wood is known for its hardiness and versatility. It is resistant to rot and insects, and because of these features it is commonly used today as a wood chip or pulp.
The thick root system that mangroves provide help to stabilize sediment during coastal threats, such as hurricanes or typhoons. Mostly, mangrove forests are useful for preventing erosion. They act as a natural filter, so other ecosystems, like coral reefs and marshes, do not get smothered by debris and pollutants. These sophisticated systems help to maintain water quality and clarity all while protecting the shoreline.
The diversity of aquatic life inhabiting mangrove systems cannot be overemphasized! The significance and dominance of these root labyrinths is something you need to experience for yourself!
Written By: Emily Hauck
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