Flora changes from macroalgae in fresh and brackish waters to seagrass and mangroves as salinity increases.
The freshwater habitats of the Everglades are dominated by marsh and slough flora, however the flora changes moving downstream where the freshwater mixes with seawater. Transitional macroalgae species including Chara hornemanni and Batophora oerstedi are common, preferring salinities from 0-10 parts per thousand (ppt).
Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) also prefers waters of low salinities. As salinities increase, Acetabularia crenulata, Caulerpa verticillata, and Udotea wilsoni become the dominant macroalgae along with shoal grass replacing widgeon grass. Mangrove forests and islands are also common along the shoreline and just offshore in estuarine waters.
Past the intertidal zone, turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) becomes the dominant seagrass, forming extensive meadows that provide habitat and shelter for a diversity of marine organisms.
Commercially important species including shrimp and lobsters reside inhabit estuarine waters.
Extensive seagrass meadows within Florida Bay serve as important habitat for a variety of species including invertebrates such as the pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) and spiny lobster (Panulirus argus).
Hermit crabs (Pagurus spp.) and stone crabs (Menippe mercenaria) also live within the seagrass flats while fiddler crabs (Uca spp.), isopods, and barnacles (Balanus balanoides) reside in the intertidal zones.
Within Florida Bay, there are limited areas of hardbottom reef. These communities generally have low diversity and are dominated by octocorals, algae, sponges, and a few stony coral species. Hardbottom habitats provide important cover and feeding areas for many fish and invertebrates.
Shallow waters of Florida Bay offer protection to juvenile fish from open water predators.
Many commercially and recreationally important fish reside in Florida Bay during at least part of their life history, migrating offshore to spawn. The fertilized eggs develop into larvae and are transported to estuaries and bays by currents and tides. The seagrasses, mangroves, and shallow waters offer protection from open water predators. Gamefish that are commonly found in the marine and estuarine waters of the Everglades include both tropical and temperate species.
Common game fish:
Estuarine and marine habitats provide habitat and nesting areas for many birds.
This habitat is home to wading and probing shorebirds, oceanic birds, and diving birds. The roseate spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja), reddish egret (Egretta refescens), double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and black-crowned night heron (Botaurus lentiginosus) are all known to nest within the habitats surrounding Florida Bay.
Other birds commonly observed include:
Shoreline birds include the willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus), snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus), Wilson’s plover (Charadrius wilsonia), and the black-necked stilt (Himantopus mexicanus).
Dolphins and manatees reside in the waters of Florida Bay.
Bottlenose dolphins (Turiops truncatus) and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) are common in the waters of Florida Bay. Raccoons (Procyon lotor) and other small mammals search for food along the waters edge.
Glossary terms on page:
- estuary: area where freshwater meets the sea, creating a salinity gradient from pure freshwater (0 ppt) to full-strength seawater (35 ppt).
- intertidal: the area also known as the littoral zone which is covered by water during high tide and exposed at low tide.
- diversity: refers to the variety of species within a given association, areas of high diversity are characterized by a great variety of species.
- octocoral: coral type that includes sea plumes, sea whips, gorgonians, and soft corals.
- substrate: the material upon or within an organism lives or grows, including soil, plants, animals and rocks.
- slough: swamp bog or marsh, especially one that is part of an inlet or backwater.
- larvae: immature form of an animal that undergoes metamorphosis prior to changing into the adult form.
- tropical: tropical zone lies between 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator, has small seasonal changes in temperature and large seasonal changes in precipitation.
- temperate: temperate zone lies between 30 and 60 degrees latitude, climate undergoes seasonal changes in temperature and moisture.
- salinity: concentration of total salts dissolved in water, usually measured in parts per thousand.
- endangered species: a species in danger of becoming extinct that is protected by the Endangered Species Act.