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Biscayne National Park

Ninety-five percent of Biscayne National Park's 173,000 acres are covered by water, making it the largest marine park in the National Park System. Four major ecosystems are protected within the park. They are:
- a narrow fringe of mangrove forest along the mainland shoreline of Biscayne Bay;

- the clear shallow waters of Biscayne Bay itself;

- the northernmost islands of the Florida Keys; and

- the beginning of the world's third-longest coral reef tract.

This mix of upland and marine environments provides habitat for hundreds of species of animals and plants. The park's proximity to Greater Miami, with a population approaching 2.5 million people, provides a unique set of challenges which include overfishing, boat groundings and water pollution, among others.

Although Biscayne National Park has an extensive human history spanning over 10,000 years, the park was established for its natural features. The park's four primary ecosystems are comprised of a variety of smaller communities like seagrass meadows, hardbottom areas and hardwood hammocks. The geology of the area has been influenced by changing sea levels, currents, hurricanes, and reef-building organisms like corals. South Florida's subtropical climate produces forest types that are more typical of the Caribbean than of mainland North America. Click on the topics to the right to learn more about these and other natural features within the park.

Coral Reefs

The reefs of Biscayne National Park are part of a 150-mile-long chain of coral reefs extending down through the lower Florida Keys and the Caribbean. The coral reef of the Florida Keys is North America’s only living coral barrier reef and the third longest coral barrier reef in the world. The reefs provide habitat for fish, stony and soft corals, sponges, jellyfish, anemones, snails, crabs, lobsters, rays, moray eels, sea turtles, dolphins, sea birds, and other animals. Coral reefs are the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. They are home to more than 150 species of tropical fish and 50 species of coral, representing 80% of the coral species in the tropical western Atlantic.

The coral reef ecosystem is a delicately balanced, interdependent marine environment composed of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses. Along with hardwood hammocks, Florida’s coral reefs are home to 1/3 of Florida’s threatened and endangered species. The overall health of the reefs has decreased dramatically in the past 15 years. Among factors responsible for this decline are heavy use, physical damage from boats, careless divers and snorklers, fishing, habitat loss from coastal development, declining water quality, global climate change, and natural storm events.

Information provided by: National Park Service