Florida Bay

Florida Bay now receives less than 50% of the fresh water it needs to maintain its massive seagrass beds, which are the key to the entire ecosystem.

Dozens of birds flying over Florida Bay
Low Sodium:

The health of fisheries and bird life depends on enough fresh water to stave off hypersalinity in the bay.

Florida Bay is the final destination for much of the fresh water that flows through the Everglades watershed. The bay features 10% of the world's seagrasses, on which the entire ecosystem is dependent, serving as habitat for many juvenile fishes and other species. Because the bay is so shallow and is made up of protected basins, evaporation increases the salinity of the water, so a steady supply of fresh water is required to maintain salinity levels. Today, Florida Bay receives just 25-50% of the fresh water it benefited from “pre-drainage”. During periods of hypersalinity—usually caused by drought—the seagrasses begin to die off, which begins a vicious cycle: decomposing grass releases nutrients that lead to algal blooms. The algae colors the water, reducing the amount of light reaching the bottom, retarding the growth of baby grasses. Without grass, there’s more suspended sediment, creating even worse light conditions to grow grass. 

A map of the Everglades Watershed with Florida Bay marked at the tip
A Roseate Spoonbill in flight
Three people in a motor boat speeding through Florida Bay

In 1987, a series of droughts created a massive seagrass die-off, in which the bay lost 20,000 football fields of grass. Another huge die-off in 2015 killed 20% of the grass. With each die-off, the health of the ecosystem is left even more fragile, so Florida Bay is always one drought away from devastation. However, recent hurricanes—Irma in 2017 and Ella in 2020—have shown that the bay responds positively to big influxes of fresh water. After Ella, fish spawned in record numbers and wading birds had the largest nesting effort in the past 30 years, featuring 120,000 mating pairs. If Everglades restoration can send more fresh water through the Everglades to the bay, the ecosystem can continue to recover.

Sunrise from the bank at Florida Bay

What you will find here...

...and what is at stake of being lost.

A line drawing of a Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)

Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)

Can You Spot Me?

Common in the coastal waters of the southern US, specifically along sandy bottoms and seagrass beds, the spotted seatrout, also known as the speckled trout, is characterized by its dark gray or green back, white belly, black spots, and a pair of prominent canine teeth on its upper jaw. Despite its name, the spotted seatrout is not a trout at all, but rather a member of the drum family. This popular game fish can grow as large as 39 inches and feeds primarily on baitfish, mullet, shrimp, and crabs.

A line drawing of Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum)

Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum)

Florida’s Front Lawn

Encompassing over 2 million acres along Florida’s shallow coastal regions (primarily in Florida Bay, Tarpon Springs, and Apalachee Bay), seagrass is vital to the health of the marine ecosystem. The largest of Florida’s seagrasses, turtle grass forms extensive beds in Florida Bay, where its ribbon-like leaves can grow up to 14 inches in length. Seagrass helps maintain water clarity, stabilizes the seabed, provides shelter for fish and crustaceans, and is a food source for numerous marine animals and water birds.

A line drawing of a American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

No, I’m Not an Alligator

At first glance, you may think you’re looking at an alligator, but zoom in (from a distance) and the differences become clear. The reclusive crocodile, with its grayish-green skin, narrow tapered snout, and protruding fourth tooth on its lower jaw, inhabits Florida’s coastal regions, preferring brackish or saltwater areas. As an apex predator, the American crocodile has no natural predators, thus whatever it encounters on land or in water can be considered prey. No longer classified as endangered, the American crocodile’s current status is considered “threatened” due mainly to illegal hunting and habitat destruction.

An osprey sits in a giant tangled nest beneath a big blue sky
Food chain:

Healthy seagrass supports fish populations, which provide food for ospreys.

Three people fishing off a small boat on a green ocean

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