Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
33 East Quay Road
Key West, Florida 33040
Monday through Friday 8am - 5pm
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
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.
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.
1969, Statutory authority is found in Chapters 253 and 258, Florida
Statutes, and Chapters 18-20 and 18-21, Florida Administrative
Aquatic Preserve is south of Big Pine Key, Monroe County.
Aquatic Preserve encompasses 6,000 acres of seagrass meadows, hard
bottom communities, mangrove wetlands and coral patch reefs.
Aquatic Preserve is comprised of the following natural communities:
shallow patch reefs, consolidated substrate (hard bottom),
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The preserve offers opportunities for boating, kayaking,
snorkeling, diving, fishing, lobstering, wildlife observation and
Commercial ventures in the preserve include fishing for lobster and
stone crabs, charter boats for fishing, diving and snorkeling,
sponging and tropical fish collection.
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.
Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve is designated as an Outstanding
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.
- Installation of mooring buoys and warning buoys around patch
- Restoration of propeller scars on the grassbeds
- Removal and treatment of coral band disease
- Beach surveys for nesting sea turtles
- Health of the coral reefs using target species
- 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
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
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.
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.
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,
Scurlock, J. Paul. 1987. Native
Trees and Shrubs of the Florida Keys. Laurel & Herbet, Inc.
Lower Sugarloaf Key, FL.