About the Coral Reef

About the Coral Reef

The Florida Reef is more than one large coral reef; it is actually a reef system made up of thousands of individual coral reefs. Because the Florida Reef is separated from land andndash; both the mainland of Florida and the shores of the islands that make up the Florida Keys andndash; by a deep channel, it is known as a coral barrier reef. The Florida Reef stretches approximately one hundred and seventy miles long, extending from the southern tip of Florida and stretching along the line of the Florida Keys. The thousands of individual reefs that form the Florida Reef are anywhere from five to seven thousand years old.

As Spanish explorers began sailing to the New World in the 16th century, the Florida Reef caused numerous known and countless unknown shipwrecks as ship captains navigating the warm, swift waters of the Florida Current offshore foundered on the treacherous reefs. Hundreds of ships were lost on the Florida Reef during the early centuries of the history of the United States with estimates of an average of one shipwreck per week. With the swift water of the Florida Current, the dangers of the Florida Reef, and the unpredictability of potential hurricanes during the late summer and fall months, the sheer number of shipwrecks birthed a profitable shipwreck salvaging industry that fueled the growth and wealth of the Florida Keys throughout the 18th and 19th century.

The Florida Reef boasts three distinct types of coral reef communities within its system. Closest to the shore of the Florida Keys is the hardbottom community, made up primarily of algae, stony corals, and sea fans. Further out within the shallow waters are the patch reefs, formed by coral that originally grows on a hard bottom but then grows upward within the shallow waters and then re-establishes new growth on the skeletons of the dead coral beneath them. Furthest out are the bank reefs, which are larger than patch reefs and thrive in the deeper waters; bank reefs also create habitats for tropical reef fish such as Angelfish, Parrotfish, and Triggerfish. The reef also is home to Spiny Lobster, Nurse Sharks, Turtles, and stingrays.

One of the greatest and most unpredictable threats to the corals that make up the Florida Reef is a change in water temperature. A long-term period of cold weather over southern Florida can decrease the water temperature surrounding the Florida Reef, making it difficult or impossible for coral to survive. An increase in water temperature can also be disastrous, causing coral bleaching which leaves normally colorful and vibrant coral pale or white.

The Florida Reef is a fantastic natural resource to explore while visiting the Florida Keys. Whether you choose to snorkel, scuba dive, fish, or simply relax and enjoy the scenery of the Florida Reef from the unique vantage point offered by a glass bottom boat, the coral and marine life found in the Florida Reef is breathtakingly beautiful.