Right here in Martin County lies the very northern extent of the Florida Coral Reef. This iconic and hugely important coastal ecosystem is right off the Florida coast extending from the St. Lucie Inlet to the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico, totaling 350 miles. As the only state in the Continental United States with extensive shallow reef formations near its coast, Florida and its southern counties have been working together to understand, protect and restore this valuable treasure. With many stressors facing our reef today, collaborative and informative efforts are increasing awareness of this extraordinary resource. Below you can learn more about our reef and how you can play a role in its protection.
Kristen Jacobs Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area
Did you know that the northern section of Florida’s barrier reef is called the Kristen Jacobs Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Area? This 105-mile tract of reef from Biscayne National Park to our St. Lucie Inlet here in Martin County was officially established as a conservation area on July 1, 2018. This formally created a unified effort to manage and conserve this highly important section of reef, referred to as the Coral ECA.
To learn more about the Coral ECA, click here and also look for these signs at your local marina, boat ramp, state park or pier!
How to Protect Florida's Coral Reef
This article by the Coral Reef Alliance discusses the negative impacts that certain chemicals in sunscreen have on our reef system, notable Oxybenzone and Octinoxate.
As an alternative, this article lists the top 10 reef-safe sunscreens in 2023. Many mentioned are sold in our locally owned surf and paddle shops, so look for them when you are shopping!
Marine debris is anything man-made and discarded that enters the marine environment. Most trash comes from land-based sources, such as through inland waterways or trash left on the beach.
Debris can spread diseases, invasive species, become navigational hazards, endanger human health, and harm wildlife. For example, sea turtles mistake plastic for the jellyfish they feed on. Here are few ways how you can help:
Participate in marine/ beach/reef cleanup events and activities.
Recycle! – Dispose of trash and recyclable materials in the proper receptacles or bring trash and recyclables home.
Reduce marine debris from fishing gear.
Bring lost fish traps and tangles of fishing line to recycling bins.
Hire local guides when visiting the coral reef ecosystem
Respect marine animals and their environment; leave coral and living shells where you found them.
Re-use works! Keep reusable bags handy, carry a metal straw, use a refillable water bottle, consider reusable containers instead of disposable baggies.
Coral Reef Ambassadors
The Florida counties of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin have banded together to create a “Coral Reef Ambassador” Initiative. The five counties have developed this regional program to help residents, tourists, boaters, fishers and divers understand how they can help conserve and protect our local reefs. By following the Coral Reef Ambassador’s set of easy to remember rules, you can help defend the reefs too!
Stand with Martin County as we work to #ProtectOurParadise. Learn more about Florida’s iconic reef here.
The highly invasive lionfish is here to stay in our Atlantic coastal ecosystems and Martin County is no exception. Despite their venomous spines, they are a delicious fish to eat and many local divers and fishers help to get them on restaurant plates. To learn more, click here and never hesitate to ask about how you can help at any local dive shop! Whether you are an avid diver and spear fisher or you like to snorkel and just want to report seeing one, it all makes a difference!
Coral reefs are valuable natural resources. They protect our coasts by reducing wave energy from storms and hurricanes. They serve as a source of food and shelter and provide critical habitat for numerous species, including commercially important fisheries. Many medicines as well as other health and beauty products are derived from marine plants, algae and animals found on coral reefs
What is happening to the coral reefs?
We are aware of the extreme stress Florida’s coral reefs are facing, and that their weakened state has allowed a very concerning disease outbreak to occur. We are lucky to have highly qualified scientists and world renowned coral reef research institutions in our region to help address this issue. This meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force could not come at a better time to bring together the leaders in coral reef strategies, partnerships and on-the-ground action to conserve coral reefs and shine a light on our local issue. The State of Florida has also stepped forward with $1M in funding to advance coral reef science and better understand this destructive coral reef disease. Locally, the 5 southeastern Florida counties (Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin) benefitting from coral reefs along their shore have banded together in programs like the “Coral Reef Ambassadors” which provides actions that each individual – resident or tourist – can take to safeguard our precious resource. Behind the scenes, the 5 counties have staff and elected officials constantly focused on opportunities to leverage funds and move programs forward.
What are “Coral Reef Ambassadors?" How can I help?
The 5 southeastern Florida counties (Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin) have banded together as “Coral Reef Ambassadors.” Follow the conservation recommendations listed on this website to help safeguard our precious resource.
Get involved with the organizations fighting to protect our natural resources.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Reef Conservation Program and Friends of Our Florida Reef all have ways you can get involved.
What do we know about the Coral disease outbreak taking place across the Florida Reef Tract?
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) is the largest coordinated coral condition monitoring program in the world. It is a truly collaborative effort bringing together more than a dozen federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and university partners*, to improve and sustain the health of Florida’s coral reefs and the industries that depend on them. The FRRP has a unique history, growing from a program to encourage knowledge and best practices sharing between the managers of the renowned Great Barrier Reef and stakeholders of the Florida Reef System.
Florida is exemplary in terms of marine managed areas and hosts one of the first designated marine protected areas in the world, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park established in 1963.
In addition, many of Florida’s coral reefs are protected and managed within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Dry Tortugas National Park and Biscayne National Park, John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, and four coastal National Wildlife Refuges in the five county region—Great White Heron, Key West, National Key Deer, and Hobe Sound.
Most of the reefs of the northern extension of the Florida Reef System, from the northern border of Biscayne National Park in Miami-Dade County to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County, are overseen by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program which is developing new management strategies for the region through the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative.
What is Florida’s Coral Reef Conservation Program?
Florida’s Coral Reef Conservation Program coordinates research and monitoring, develops management strategies, and promotes partnerships to protect the coral reefs, hard-bottom communities, and associated reef resources of southeast Florida. CRCP leads the implementation of the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative. Visit us on the web at: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/coral.
What is the northern section of the Florida Reef Tract?
The northern section of the Florida Reef Tract, part of the only coral reef ecosystem in the continental United States, is co-managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (FDEP CRCP). The region of focus stretches over 100 miles from the northern boundary of Biscayne Nation Park in Miami-Dade County, northward to the Port St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County.
This vibrant and ancient natural resource and marine wildlife habitat provides popular recreation and tourism options including stellar beaches, fishing, boating, snorkeling and diving. Moreover, the Florida Reef Tract supports the regional economy and greater good by providing delicious seafood to millions of people in Florida and beyond, while naturally protecting vital shoreline real estate, marinas, and strategic warm-water ports from ocean wave action and storm surge.
Although the Florida Reef Tract has been living prosperously for millennia, in many spots within swimming distance from the shore, it is under threat from many modern human-induced stressors, including but not limited to: residential and industrial land-based sources of pollution, over-fishing, coastal construction, and vessel and anchoring impacts. Combined with various global stressors, these activities have a cumulative negative effect on Florida’s unique natural (and national) treasure. Fortunately, critical steps are being taken by the FDEP CRCP and other organizations to ensure healthy reefs for the 21st Century and beyond