St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center > Florida Shelf Ecosystems

Response of Florida Shelf Ecosystems to Climate Change

Project Summary

Project Background

Florida beach
Florida's economic resources: recreation, tourism, fisheries, and beaches are closely tied to marine resources on the Florida Shelf.

The FLaSH Map Project began as a multi-agency approach to benthic habitat mapping of existing data, such as multibeam and side-scan sonar imagery of the shelf, in a user-friendly tool. The FLaSH Ecosystem Project expands on the mapping effort to incorporate those data into research of shelf processes and the impact of climate change on Florida shelf resources.

The Florida shelf offers considerable economic resources including commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, recreation, mining of sand and gravel resources, phosphate and freshwater reserves. Yet, managers and the general public lack the basic information to know where resources are, to interpret existing data, and to utilize information about ongoing shelf processes to make informed management decisions. The FLaSH Map Project and the follow-on FLaSH Ecosystem Project address shelf processes in a geographic context, enabling the public, managers, and scientists, who are not experts in oceanography, to understand changing marine resources in the context of maps and other visual tools.

Florida Shelf

The Florida shelf is a carbonate platform extending offshore of the State of Florida. The Atlantic, or east Florida, shelf is approximately 100 km wide off St. Augustine and tapers to less than 2 km at West Palm Beach. The Gulf of Mexico, or west Florida shelf, is a wide, low-energy continental shelf, extending approximately 900 km from the western Panhandle to the extreme Southwest margin off the Florida Keys. Both shelves are sediment-starved, and composed of a mixture of siliciclastic and carbonate sediment depending on latitude.

The west Florida shelf is divided into two areas: seaward of the Panhandle and seaward of Peninsular Florida. Each area is compositionally different: the Panhandle is dominated by siliciclastic sediment and Peninsular Florida is dominated by pure carbonates to the south. Additionally, the Gulf shoreline merges from sediment-rich barrier island systems to the south and to the west to a marsh coast in the north-central region.

The East Florida shelf is a higher energy regime influenced by the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic. It is comprised of siliciclastic dominated sediments to the north, grading into a mixed siliciclastic-carbonate sediment composition at approximately the latitude of Ft. Lauderdale/Miami. Rapid population growth on the coast has impacted shelf habitats, including offshore reefs—recent observations of macro algae blooms off Broward County are suspected to be the result of nutrient-rich submarine groundwater discharge of anthropogenic origin (runoff, wastewater point and non-point sources).

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