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Introduction

Boca Chita Key. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District
Boca Chita Key. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

The Florida Keys are a chain of 1,700 islands extending southwest from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the Florida Bay and Gulf of Mexico to the north. This island chain is 202 miles (325 km) in length, stretching to within 90 miles (145 km) of Cuba. As the only coral reef system off the North American continent and the third largest barrier reef in the world (behind Australia and Belize), the Florida Reef Tract is located on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys.

Map of South Florida including Florida Keys, Florida Bay, and the Everglades. Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Map of South Florida including Florida Keys, Florida Bay, and the Everglades. Image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Reef fish attract tourists to the Florida Keys. Photo © Chuck Savall
Reef fish attract tourists to the Florida Keys. Photo © Chuck Savall

Habitats

Although this area is world renown for this reef system, other productive marine communities including seagrass meadows and mangrove forests occur within the waters of the Florida Keys. Seagrass meadows are the most abundant habitat within the Keys and when combined with those to the north in the Florida Bay, create the most extensive seagrass bed in the world. These communities form the marine ecosystem upon which the fishery and tourism industries of south Florida are dependent upon.


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