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 Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve Information Page
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Description of Site
Established
Location
Size
Watershed
Habitat
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Uses
Management Status
References

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Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
33 East Quay Road
Key West, Florida 33040
(305) 292-0311
Monday through Friday 8am - 5pm


Description of Site

Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is the southern most aquatic preserve located in the lower half of the Florida Keys archipelago. It is unique in the state system because within the clear, tropical waters are living coral reef communities. This aquatic preserve includes a sheltered tropical lagoon and open ocean environments which are separated by a chain of islands: the Newfound Harbor Keys.

Coral patch reefs are often circular, domed formations found on the hard bottom areas of the Atlantic portion of the preserve. They offer habitat for a multitude of brightly colored tropical fish and other marine life. Since these patch reefs are located in relatively shallow water, they allow a good opportunity for wildlife observation and photography.

Coupon Bight is a shallow semi-enclosed basin approximately 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) long and 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) wide with an average 6 foot (1.8 meter) depth near the center. Rare wading birds can often be observed foraging in the shallow waters of the tropical lagoon and amongst the mangroves. The endangered Key deer traverse the shallow waters to move from island to island. The grass flats are comprised mostly of turtle grass and offer shelter to a variety of finfish of recreational and commercial importance.


Established

Established 1969, Statutory authority is found in Chapters 253 and 258, Florida Statutes, and Chapters 18-20 and 18-21, Florida Administrative Code.


Location

Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is south of Big Pine Key, Monroe County.


Size

Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve encompasses 6,000 acres of seagrass meadows, hard bottom communities, mangrove wetlands and coral patch reefs.


Watershed

Not applicable


Habitat

Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is comprised of the following natural communities: shallow patch reefs, consolidated substrate (hard bottom), seagrass beds, coastal berm and beach, and mangroves. The shallow patch reefs and the hard bottom communities can be found in the open ocean section of the preserve, south of the Newfound Harbor Keys. Coupon Bight, the tropical lagoon section of the preserve, is north of the Newfound Harbor Keys. The northern section is comprised of hard bottom communities while the southern section is mostly seagrass beds. All of the islands within the preserve are ringed by mangroves. The most extensive beach development runs along the Atlantic shoreline of Big Pine Key and the Newfound Harbor Keys. The coastal berm runs parallel to the beach and along the northern shore of Coupon Bight.


Ecological Importance

Lobster, grouper, snapper, snook, bonefish, permit and stone crabs are a few of the important commercial and recreational species found in the aquatic preserve. Unfortunately, many of these species are also ecologically important to the health of the various communities of the preserve. Grouper, snapper and snook are some of the top predators living on coral reefs. These predators feed on smaller reef fish and help to maintain a natural balance on the reefs.

In addition, to providing habitat for many important commercial and recreational marine species the shallow patch reefs provide storm protection and habitat diversity as well as baffling wave energy.

Mangrove communities contribute substantially to the health and productivity of marine systems in the preserve. Shoreline stabilization, storm protection, filtration and stabilization of sediments, nutrient cycling and habitat diversity are only a few of the many functions that this community performs.

Marine grassbeds are a major component of the aquatic resources of the preserve. Seagrasses stabilize sediments, baffle wave energy, cycle nutrients, and provide substrate for a complex floral and faunal community. Abundant food and cover make this an important resource for invertebrates and a nursery area for many fish species.

The beach is used as a nesting area by sea turtles and as a foraging area by wading birds. The coastal berm offers additional storm protection to the upland areas.


Geomorphic Features

A string of islands, the Newfound Harbor Keys, extends west from the eastern end of Big Pine Key. The islands are separated from each other by shallow water which is used as a foraging area by wading birds. The endangered Key deer is able to traverse these shallow waters and use these islands as foraging grounds. Coral patch reefs can be found parallel to these islands on the Atlantic Ocean side.


Archaeological Features

The early native Americans and Bahamian fisherman harvested the abundant fish and turtles and salvaged the cargoes of unfortunate sailing ships that were dashed upon the treacherous reefs. The somewhat sketchy but colorful exploits of the pirates who plundered the treasure laden ships of the Spanish fleets were also to become an indelible page in the Keys’ history. Later, the descendants of these enterprising sailors and the immigrants from the Bahamas and Cuba were to become permanent colonizers of this chain of islands. The ever present threat to navigation, the tropical growing climate and the rich bounty of the sea were the mainstay of a culture devoted to ship salvage (wreckers), citrus and pineapple plantations, and the sponge, turtle and fishing industries.


Uses

Recreational:

The preserve offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, lobstering, wildlife observation and photography.


Commercial:

Commercial ventures in the preserve include fishing for lobster and stone crabs, charter boats for fishing, diving and snorkeling, sponging and tropical fish collection.


Educational:

The Newfound Harbor Marine Institute offers programs in marine education for children. The Boy Scouts of America utilize the preserve for teaching sailing, kayaking and marine education.


Management Status

Designation:

Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water.


Ownership / Manager:
Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is owned by the State of Florida and is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas.


Management Activities:
  1. Installation of mooring buoys and warning buoys around patch reefs
  2. Restoration of propeller scars on the grassbeds
  3. Removal and treatment of coral band disease

Monitoring Activities:
  1. Beach surveys for nesting sea turtles
  2. Health of the coral reefs using target species
  3. Restoration of propeller scars on the grassbeds

Research by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection includes juvenile fish studies, larval recruitment of the spiny lobster and studies on the effectiveness of fishing exclusion zones.


Management Needs:

Research and habitat restoration is the primary need for the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve.


Management Issues and Threats:

Management issues include conflicting uses, increasing watercraft traffic, the protection of designated species and their habitat, the protection of bird feeding and resting areas, research needs, damage to marine resources and acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands.

Impacts to the natural resources of Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve include propeller and grounding damage to grassbeds and coral, damage to coral patch reefs from careless or uninformed divers who stand on or touch coral, anchoring on coral, marine life collecting, sponging, the placement and retrieval of lobster traps, liveaboard vessels which introduce waste, sewage and chemicals into the surrounding waters and vessel mooring for extended periods which shade submerged vegetation.


References

Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1992. Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve Management Plan. Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 1994. Official Lists of Endangered and Potentially Endangered Fauna and Flora of Florida, compiled by Don A. Wood. Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1990. a Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida. Tallahassee, FL.

Gato, Jeannette. 1991. The Monroe County Environmental Story. The Monroe County Environmental Education Task Force. Big Pine Key, FL.

Kale, Herbet W. and David S. Maehr. 1990. Florida’s Birds. Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, FL.

Nellis, David W. 1994. Seashore Plants of South Florida and the Caribbean. Pineapple Press, Inc. Sarasota, FL.

Scurlock, J. Paul. 1987. Native Trees and Shrubs of the Florida Keys. Laurel & Herbet, Inc. Lower Sugarloaf Key, FL.

Last updated: May 02, 2012

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