Oceans are one of nature’s greatest gifts. Did you know that approximately 70% of the earth is covered by water? We know more about the moon than the ocean. Coral Reefs cover only 1% of the ocean floor, but support 25% of all marine species and serves as natural barrier for hurricanes, tsunamis, and other damaging storms. Unfortunately many of the reefs have been impacted by ocean dumping, global warming, and over fishing.
Florida is the only state in the continental United States to have an extensive shallow coral reef formation near the coast. It is the third largest barrier reef ecosystem in the world. It extends from Stuart Martin County on the Atlantic coast, to the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. The most abundant development of reefs is off the coast of the Florida Keys. The Florida Reef tract extends 150 miles long and 4 miles wide extending to the edge of the Florida Straits. All but the northern most extent of the reef tract lies within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Gary and I became certified divers in March 2007. At first I was apprehensive. Would I tolerate the pressure? What about sharks? Those concerns soon dissipated once we entered the waters in West Palm Beach. A whole new world opened up for me the first time I put my face in the water and saw what was beneath me. Once you are underwater you forget about the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Scuba diving is a sport unlike any other on earth. Diving is great for people variety of ages, skills, and health levels. There are some risks involved in diving and that is why you are properly trained to keep you safe.
The world underneath the surface is so unlike anything that you would encounter in your daily lives. Every dive holds something unique and no two dives are ever alike. There are wondrous inhabitants waiting for you to discover.West Palm Beach where we do most of our diving is close to theGulf Stream which bring in an abundance and the variety of fish. TheGulf Stream brings in warm and blue waters and the visibility normally ranges from 70 to 100 ft. Since West Palm Beach is closest to the Gulf Stream there is always current and the strength of the current is very unpredictable, sometimes it can be so strong and you feel like you are flying through the water. This makes for an interesting dive.
In the last five years we have been diving in the West Caribbean, Key Largo, and Eastern Caribbean. So far, West Palm Beach is where we have seen the most variety of marine life. Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green Turtles are the most commonly seen in our area. It is very common to see several turtles in one dive, especially during mating and nesting season which runs from April to June. In addition to turtles, you find schools of variety of reef fish, lobsters, eels, sharks, sting rays, and many other tropical species.
Marine life has been significantly affected by hurricanes, coastal development, and irresponsible visitors to the reefs. Artificial reefs are man-made and are placed away from natural reef for new communities of marine life. The artificial reefs are most commonly made from concrete and limestone which is very similar to the natural reefs. Ships are also deployed to form habitat for marine life. The benefits of artificial reefs are food, shelter, protection, and spawning for fish and marine life. This also helps the natural reefs so recreational divers do not over stress the natural reefs.
One popular artificial reef site in West Palm Beach is The Mizpah a 185′ Greek Luxury Liner that was sunk in 1968. In August and September you can find large numbers of Goliath Grouper spawning. This site is protected and spear fishing, lobstering, and shell collecting is illegal. In close proximity to The Mizpah there are other vessels, the Amaryllis which is 440ft freighter, and a 165ft. Navy Patrol Craft. All these artificial vessels are considered the “East Palm Beach Reefs”.
Protect Our Reefs License Plate funds research, conservation, and education. The Protect Our Reef program supports many of aspects of Florida’s economy and ecology. This program has allowed the discovery of new ways to conserve and manage coral reefs, which face global threats from pollution, warmer waters, and disease. In addition to local residents, millions of vacationers come to Florida to enjoy scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing on South Florida’s coral reefs.
Coral reefs plants and animals are being used to develop medicines to treat cancer, arthritis, heart disease, bacterial infections, viruses and other diseases. There are some coral reels organisms that release chemicals to fight off attackers which scientist are researching to hopefully use for medicinal purposes. In the future coral reefs could be used for medicine, nutritional supplements, cosmetics and pesticides.
It is so important for humans to take care of this fragile ecosystem. The sustainability of coral reefs will have a direct impact on us. If the coral reefs are damaged we will lose the protection from storms which they offer our coastlines. The travel and fishing industries will also be greatly affected since billions of dollars and jobs are generated by this industry.
By: Rita Zimmerman LPTA/CLT