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Florida Keys
Dustan, P. (2000). Florida Keys, in: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 1. Regional chapters: Europe, The Americas and West Africa. pp. 405-414
In: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) (2000). Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 1. Regional chapters: Europe, The Americas and West Africa. Pergamon: Amsterdam. ISBN 0-08-043207-7. XXI, 934 pp., more

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Document type: Review


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  • Dustan, P.

    The Florida Keys form an elongated chain of 822 low-lying islands, extending for over 220 miles south of Florida, and are the only living coral reefs in the continental United States. A wide shelf area populated with seagrass beds, patch reefs, and banks of carbonate sand separates outer reefs from the islands. The original terrestrial vegetation of the islands consisted of mixed tropical hardwood forest and extensive mangroves. Many of the trees were of Caribbean origin and not found elsewhere in the continental United States, but most of the larger trees have been logged and the vegetational composition highly altered. Urbanization on the islands has been intense, mostly around Key Largo, in the Northern Keys, Marathon in the Middle Keys, and Key West in the South. The islands are connected by an overseas highway containing 19.3 miles of bridge spans; a water pipeline paralleling the roadway provides the only source of fresh water. The permanent resident population of the Florida Keys grew from 5,657 in 1870 to 53,058 in 1990, with about 30% of the residents living in Key West. In 1995-1996, there were 2.54 million visitors. A significant portion of reef degradation here is probably related to watershed alterations from agriculture, development, and tourism in South Florida; efforts there to channel water flow have resulted in additional flow into the coastal waters of Florida Bay and the Keys, bringing increased sedimentation and nutrients. Ship groundings and anchor damage have been widespread and severe. As elsewhere, coral reef populations in the Keys are subject to stresses of global warming and events such as the Caribbean-wide mass mortality of Diadema antellarum. Monitoring has been most complete at Carysfort Reef, which has continued to decline, and is now entering a state of ecological collapse: similar ecological degradation has occurred on many reefs throughout the Florida Keys. In 1990, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Act came into force and directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to institute a water quality assurance and protection plan for the Florida Keys. Presently, management utilizes the concept of multi-use zoning to generate varying levels of resource protection.

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