Protecting Our Reefs
The Florida Reef Tract, which stretches about 350 miles from the Dry Tortugas National Park to the St. Lucie Inlet, in Stuart, is the world’s third largest coral reef. This spectacular resource offers an enormous variety of adventures for divers, anglers, and boaters.
These brilliant reefs offer a globally unique opportunity to dive on large schools of docile goliath groupers—the world’s largest grouper that can grow to hundreds of pounds! Here in our area, it is possible to see five species of sea turtle on a single dive, see or photograph up to 45 species of coral and hundreds of species of fish, some of which you will not find anywhere else.
The Florida Reef Tract is a major contributor towards making Florida the “Fishing Capital of the World”. Majestic migratory predators such as Sailfish, Mahi-Mahi, and Wahoo patrol the reefs in search of their prey fish. Delicious, hard-fighting bottom dwellers, including a tremendous variety of snappers, groupers, and grunts, lurk among the colorful coral heads. Come join us for a fishing trip of a lifetime.
We are proud of our reef, and grateful for all that it provides us, including great diving, boating, and fishing in the area. As visitors, you have an opportunity to help us conserve this irreplaceable resource.
Reef Conservation Tips
Tens of thousands of divers descend on the Florida Reef each year, so coral-friendly diving practices are essential. It is vital that you avoid touching the corals with hands, fins, or gear.
- Learn how much weight is ideal to get you to the bottom. Practice your buoyancy skills before diving on coral reefs.
- Swim at an attitude parallel to the reef to avoid kicking it with your fins. Shallow artificial reefs are good places to practice.
- You will enjoy a longer, safer dive if you hover a bit above the reef. The air in your SCUBA tank will actually last longer.
- Clip the alternate second stage regulator (octopus) to your Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) so that it does not drag across the reef. This goes for lobster hunting gear as well.
- Spearfishermen—if you need to sit on the bottom to reload or float a fish to the surface, find a sandy spot to settle on.
- It is imperative that you clean your gear when moving to different areas along the reef. Microbial organisms can hitch a ride on unwashed dive gear, spreading disease from dive to dive. It is important to disinfect wetsuits, masks, fins and SCUBA equipment. While on board your vessel, clean gear with non-ionic detergents and soaps. Use a diluted bleach wash once you return to shore.
- Opt for biodegradable, reef-friendly sun protection. Sunscreens containing between 1-10 percent Oxybenzone may harm corals. If you can’t avoid Oxybenzone, opt for the lowest concentration. Any small effort to reduce Oxybenzone pollution could mean that a coral reef survives a long, hot summer, or that a degraded area recovers. Please do continue to wear sunscreen to prevent the risk of skin cancer, as the sun in South Florida is very strong.
Shop Local for Reef Safe Sunscreen
Travel + Leisure released an article on the impact of Oxybenzone and other chemicals on our reef system. Several of these brands mentioned in this article are sold in many of our locally owned surf and paddle shops look for them when you are shopping!
Reef Conservation for Anglers and Boaters
Whether fishing, sailing, or cruising, Southeast Florida is a mariner’s paradise. Calm, clear waters, spectacular scenery, and abundant wildlife beckon boaters from around the world.
To protect the coral reef ecosystem, it is important to learn and abide by the science-based fishing regulations established by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC). Please do not take more than you are allowed.
Better yet, take only what you need. Fish are not just products of the coral reef ecosystem; they are also part of its fragile ecology. Like productive citizens, they provide goods and services to the ecosystem to which they belong.
Besides abiding by fishing regulations, here are more reef-friendly fishing and boating tips:
- Please do not drop an anchor on the reef. Anchor in sand up current of the reef and pay out line until the boat is over the reef.
- Please use circle hooks. Fish rarely swallow circle hooks, and they are easier to remove, so more undersized and unwanted fish you release will survive.
- Discard fishing line in proper recycling receptacles.
- When bottom fishing, use braided line and a leader lighter than the breaking strength of the braid. If you get hung up, you’ll leave a minimal amount of line on the reef.
- Seagrass meadows in estuaries support coral reefs by filtering water, stabilizing sediments, and providing nursery habitats for fish species that live on reefs once they mature. Propeller scars cause seagrass meadows to erode. Plan your route ahead of time, consult nautical charts frequently, and know your vessels draft to avoid running aground on seagrass or reef. There are major penalties for harming either. Click here for more boating tips and seagrass. Click here for the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Locator Map and application.
- Mooring buoys offer risk-free opportunities to “park” in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, off the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, and the Indian River Lagoon.
- Boats can be disease vectors and transplant exotic species. Wash your boat thoroughly, including the bilge, before traveling from one area to the next.
- Fuel up and add oil in a calm area to avoid spills. Be careful not to overflow your fuel tanks or oil receptacle.
- Dispose of trash on shore and recycle!
- Make sure to avoid stunning sea turtles or manatees.
Reef Conservation Is Something We Can All Take Part In!
Marine debris is anything man-made and discarded that enters the marine environment. Most trash comes from land-based sources. Trash on the ground may be swept into inland waterways by rain and wind, where it will then make its way into the ocean through rivers and streams. Trash left on beaches is also a culprit.
Debris can spread diseases, invasive species, become navigational hazards, endanger human health, and harm wildlife. For example, sea turtles mistake plastic for the jellyfish they feed on, and ingest it.
Here are few ways how you can help:
- Participate in marine, beach, and reef cleanup events and activities.
- Recycle! – Dispose of trash and recyclable materials in the proper receptacles or bring trash and recyclables home.
- Reduce marine debris from fishing gear.
- Bring lost fish traps and tangles of fishing line to recycling bins.
- Hire local guides when visiting the coral reef ecosystem
- Respect marine animals and their environment; leave coral and living shells where you found them.
- Re-use works! Keep reusable bags handy, carry a metal straw, use a refillable water bottle, consider reusable containers instead of disposable baggies.
We need your help controlling the population of invasive lionfish, which consume large numbers of native reef fish and threaten the sustainability of our fisheries, as well as the health of our reef. If you have any experience spearfishing with pole spears, we encourage you to carry a spear suitable for those slow-moving invaders. They are delicious, but you need to carry a container that their sharp, poisonous spines can’t penetrate. Keep your eyes out for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s yearly Lionfish Challenge, where divers can win prizes associated with removing this invasive species.
Coral reefs are valuable natural resources. They protect our coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and hurricanes. They serve as a source of food and shelter and provide critical habitat for numerous species, including commercially important fisheries. Many medicines as well as other health and beauty products are derived from marine plants, algae and animals found on coral reefs
We are aware of the extreme stress Florida’s coral reefs are facing, and that their weakened state has allowed a very concerning disease outbreak to occur. We are lucky to have highly qualified scientists and world renowned coral reef research institutions in our region to help address this issue. This meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force could not come at a better time to bring together the leaders in coral reef strategies, partnerships and on-the-ground action to conserve coral reefs and shine a light on our local issue. The State of Florida has also stepped forward with $1M in funding to advance coral reef science and better understand this destructive coral reef disease. Locally, the 5 southeastern Florida counties (Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin) benefitting from coral reefs along their shore have banded together in programs like the “Coral Reef Ambassadors” which provides actions that each individual – resident or tourist – can take to safeguard our precious resource. Behind the scenes, the 5 counties have staff and elected officials constantly focused on opportunities to leverage funds and move programs forward.
The 5 southeastern Florida counties (Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin) have banded together as “Coral Reef Ambassadors.” Follow the conservation recommendations listed on this website to help safeguard our precious resource.
Get involved with the organizations fighting to protect our natural resources.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Program and Friends of Our Florida Reef all have ways you can get involved.
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) is the largest coordinated coral condition monitoring program in the world. It is a truly collaborative effort bringing together more than a dozen federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and university partners*, to improve and sustain the health of Florida’s coral reefs and the industries that depend on them. The FRRP has a unique history, growing from a program to encourage knowledge and best practices sharing between the managers of the renowned Great Barrier Reef and stakeholders of the Florida Reef System.
FRRP’s stewardship of the Florida Reef System includes work to identify and track the health and status of coral reefs, understand underlying factors that lead to and maintain resilience, and inform efforts to reduce negative impacts and stressors on reefs. Throughout FRRP’s history, partners have successfully worked together in four main program areas: Disturbance Response Monitoring, Human Dimensions of Reef Resilience, Communications and Outreach, and Supporting Coral Reef Management and Sustainable Uses.
Florida is exemplary in terms of marine managed areas and hosts one of the first designated marine protected areas in the world, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park established in 1963.
In addition, many of Florida’s coral reefs are protected and managed within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Dry Tortugas National Park and Biscayne National Park, John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, and four coastal National Wildlife Refuges in the five county region—Great White Heron, Key West, National Key Deer, and Hobe Sound.
Most of the reefs of the northern extension of the Florida Reef System, from the northern border of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County, are overseen by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program which is developing new management strategies for the region through the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative.
Florida’s Coral Reef Conservation Program coordinates research and monitoring, develops management strategies, and promotes partnerships to protect the coral reefs, hard-bottom communities, and associated reef resources of southeast Florida. CRCP leads the implementation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative. Visit us on the web at: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/coral.
The northern section of the Florida Reef Tract, part of the only coral reef ecosystem in the continental United States, is co-managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (FDEP CRCP). The region of focus stretches over 100 miles from the northern boundary of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County, northward to the Port St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County.
This vibrant and ancient natural resource and marine wildlife habitat provides popular recreation and tourism options including stellar beaches, fishing, boating, snorkeling and diving. Moreover, the Florida Reef Tract supports the regional economy and greater good by providing delicious seafood to millions of people in Florida and beyond, while naturally protecting vital shoreline real estate, marinas, and strategic warm-water ports from ocean wave action and storm surge.
Although the Florida Reef Tract has been living prosperously for millennia, in many spots within swimming distance from the shore, it is under threat from many modern human-induced stressors, including but not limited to: residential and industrial land-based sources of pollution, over-fishing, coastal construction, and vessel and anchoring impacts. Combined with various global stressors, these activities have a cumulative negative effect on Florida’s unique natural (and national) treasure. Fortunately, critical steps are being taken by the FDEP CRCP and other organizations to ensure healthy reefs for the 21st Century and beyond.