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Information about Coastal Habitats Habitat Types

Although Florida's coasts are best known for their beaches, there are many other important habitats along the coasts and immediately offshore. Along Florida's shores, salt marshes and mangrove forests provide important habitats to numerous species. Immediately off-shore, the seagrass meadows and expanses of coral reefs fulfill similar roles.

Estuaries are also important to many species, although they are not a habitat any more than coasts are. Estuaries occur in areas where freshwater mixes with saltwater, usually enclosed in a bay to slow the mixing effect. So salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass meadows can all occur within the same estuary. Additionally, they are valuable because the lower salinity tends to discourage the truly marine species from intruding which allows them to function as nurseries, hence their nickname - The Cradle of the Oceans.

             

Both mangrove forests and salt marshes tend to occur within estuaries. The soil types that they need are small enough that they would quickly be washed away by the ocean's waves. This is why barrier islands tend to have beaches on their outer banks, but marshes or mangroves on the inside.

Seagrass meadows are an important, but often overlooked habitat for many marine organisms. Sometimes confused with the hydrilla, water hyacinths, and other aggressive invaders that plague boaters and wildlife alike, seagrasses provide important habitat to many estuarine species. Just like estuaries, they are important nursery grounds for many species of juvenile fish because of the cover that they give against larger predators.

The final habitat described here, coral reefs, is possibly the only one that isn't overlooked, possibly to its woe. Their status as "rain forests of the sea" is well known and millions of tourists and local residents enjoy Florida's coral reefs each year. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the most visited gem in our state's collection of state parks with over 500,000 visitors each year. However, just awareness of coral reefs is not enough and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force has been formed to better protect the coral reefs in our nation.

More information about each of these habitats can be found in the list of pages to the right.

Last updated: July 19, 2011

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