Key Biscayne’s Natural Resources
Key Biscayne’s Beaches
Key Biscayne is fortunate to be bounded on it’s eastern side by beautiful beaches extending the entire length of the Island. The beaches can be divided into 3 areas distinguished by the managing government agency. The northern end of the Key, Crandon Park falls under the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade county. The central portion of the beach is managed by the Village of Key Biscayne and the southern portion, Bill Baggs Park, by the State of Florida.
All three areas have public access, with some public access limited by condominiums and hotels on the Village portion. The two parks have entry fees. However, the entire length of the Key is accessible for walking on the ocean side of the high tide intrusion. The beaches provide environmental protection to the Key as well as significant economical benefits. As well, the beaches and associated sand dunes provide protection from most storm induced salt water inundation of neighboring residential areas. Economically, for example, the beaches provide opportunities for both residents and visitors to shop at local stores to buy provisions to participate in the recreational activities provided by the beaches. These activities include swimming, sun bathing, recreational fishing, launching of surf board type craft, snorkeling, etc.
However, the beaches are subject to both natural and man-made hazards. Natural hazards include storm induced beach erosion and damage to sea grass and sand dunes. Man-made damage includes trash, pollution caused by vessel discharges and oil spills, and beach front construction that does not factor in the natural path of sand along the island’s boundary. Protection from these hazards is complicated by the often random nature of their occurrences which can delay implementation of mitigation strategies. Citizen Scientist understanding of these hazards provides means to reduce their impacts and raise participation in hazard control activities when possible, limitting the damage done to this valuable Key resource.
Key Biscayne’s Green Spaces
For purposes of this discussion, green spaces are areas that are limited to trees, plants, grass, and other natural flora. As with the Key’s beaches, green spaces can be divided into 3 areas, those in Crandon Park, the Village of Key Biscayne, and Bill Baggs Park. Each area has both common and unique green spaces. For instance, Crandon Park has green spaces that include groves of various types of trees as well as grass lands. The Village of Key Biscayne has a Village Green which provides a large area of grass covered space. Bill Baggs Park has similar green space attributes to Crandon Park.
These areas provide many recreational opportunities for residents of and visitors to the Key including areas for picnics, team sports, games, walking, and jogging. The Village Green includes a children’s play ground with numerous slides and other recreational structures for kids. As are the beaches, these spaces are endangered by many natural and man-made hazards. Storm induced flooding can harm the grass covered areas. Storm winds can damage the trees found in these areas. User disrespect for the environment can result in large areas of trash. Overuse of areas can turn grass areas into dust bowls.
Citizen Scientist awareness of the hazards that can reduce the recreational potential and beauty of these areas and willingness to report on damaged areas will ensure prolonged availability of green spaces for the use of Key residents and visitors alike.
Key Biscayne’s Biking & Walking Paths
Although man-made, the biking and walking paths on the Key open a large window to the natural resources of the Island and provide residents and visitors a view of some of it’s hidden treasures. They provide environmentally protected methods to view the Key and another entry to the shops of the Island. Although not hidden, the most used routes are the paths bordering the Rickenbacker Causeway-Crandon Boulevard roadway that extends from the beginning of Crandon Park to the southern end of Bill Baggs Park. Crandon Park includes a biking/walking path along the walkway bordering the beach, extending into a tree grove area located on the northern end of the Key and onto the bridge crossing over Bear Cut to Virginia Key. The main bike path in the Village is along Crandon Boulevard.
Bill Baggs includes several biking/walking paths, one of which extends from the park entrance to the Key Biscayne Lighthouse on the southern tip of the Island. There is a walking/biking path along the southeastern side of the Key that includes a stunning vista of Biscayne Bay as well mini-piers for recreational fishing and several walking paths that lead into the heart of the park. This path also passes by No Name Harbor and the Key Biscayne Lighthouse, the latter housing a description of the early history of the Island.
These paths are not immune to natural and man-made hazards. Plant overgrowth of the paths can endanger both bikers and walkers. Faults in the paths can cause dangerous hazards to bikers. Trash can detract from the pleasure of the path, as well as endangering the flora and fauna that reside along the them (e.g., fishing line entrapment of birds). Citizen Scientist inspection of the paths and reporting on features detrimental to their use would allow both bikers and walkers to continue to enjoy the natural environment of the Key while also protecting the local flaura and fauna.
Key Biscayne’s Mangrove Hammocks
Mangrove Hammocks are natural clusters of Mangrove trees that are found along the boundaries of the Key’s waterways. Specifically, Mangrove Hammocks are located primarily on the Biscayne Bay side of Key Biscayne, for instance close to the Crandon Park Marina. A Mangrove Hammock was planted at the Bill Baggs entrance to Pines Canal after Hurricane Andrew. The Hammock was planted to ensure that trees native to South Florida replace non-native trees such as the Australian Pines found in the area prior to the storm.
Mangrove Hammocks provide natural protection to areas inshore of the hammocks from high winds as well as safe harbors when they partially surround inlets. They are a critical ingredient in the ecology of the Key as well as providing many recreational opportunities. Ecologically, they act as habitats for many of the birds that reside on the Key either temporarily or permanently. They also serve as breeding grounds and residences for many kinds of fish that inhabit the Bay. Many of these fish are popular catches for recreational fisherman.
Recreationally, areas close to the mangroves also provide safe areas for kyaking, canoeing and small sail boats (i.e., they are not suitable for large boats). The Mangrove Hammocks are susceptible to natural and man-made dangers. High winds are obvious threats to the trees. Flooding by salt water can also damage the trees as exemplified by the storm surge effects of Hurricane Andrew on the Mangrove Hammocks of Biscayne Bay.
Key Biscayne’s Coral Reefs
Coral reefs are either naturally occurring or artificially implanted features of the marine environment located on the ocean side of Key Biscayne. The reefs are congregations of small living creatures typically found in tropical and subtropical waters, such as off Key Biscayne. Naturally occurring reefs form independently of human intervention, while artificially formed reefs grow on human planted features such as ships sunk specifically for the purpose of providing a foundation for coral growth. At least one such ship was sunk off Key Biscayne.
Coral reefs provide value to the Key through tourism, recreational fishing, and shoreline protection. The beauty of the reefs themselves and the wide range of tropical fish found on the reefs provide a valuable tourist attraction. Several reefs are found at shallow depths and thus provide an ideal site for viewing by snorkeling and scuba diving. The reefs also host a wide variety of edible fish such as snapper and grouper, thus supporting a valuable recreational fishing industry. Finally, the reefs serve to protect inshore areas during storms by causing waves to break farther offshore.
Unfortunately, coral reefs are extremely fragile structures subject to both natural and man-made hazards. Extreme storms and the resulting waves can damage corals found at shallow depths. The warming of the oceans and resulting acidification of it’s water can cause ‘coral bleaching’ resulting in the loss of live coral. Man-made hazards include pollution both from offshore runoff and vessel discharge. Ship groundings on reefs also cause coral reef damage.
Inspection of coral reefs by Citizen Scientists, particularly those who snorkel or scuba dive, can provide a valuable measure of the health of the coral reefs offshore Key Biscayne. Further study based on these observations can hopefully provide information on the causes of damaged reefs, and thereby lead to remedial actions to repair the damage.
Key Biscayne’s Waterways
Key Biscayne has many inlets that provide outlets to Biscayne Bay for sea life such as sharks, manatees, and numerous species of other fish. In addition, the inlets serve as entry points to docking areas for personal boats ranging from sailboats to power boats, and small (order of 10 feet) to large (order of 150 feet). The inlets provide recreational opportunities for both residents of and visitors to the Key. A popular pastime is dropping anchor and interacting with other boaters on the shallow sandbars located on the Bay-side of the Key.
Sightseeing on the inlets of the Key is another popular recreational use of the Island’s waterways. Boats anchoring either alone or rafting with other boats are also a common sight in the Key’s waterways, often with boaters lounging in the water.
Hazards are numerous in the waterways. Intense storms and associated storm surges can cause boats to come loose from their docks or offshore moorings. Excessive speed in the waterways can cause large wakes causing boats to be damaged through interactions with docks and piling, and the same boats can cause considerable damage to the slow moving manatees who are frequently scarred by the boat’s propellor. Trash thrown in the waterways by inconsiderate boaters can cause damage to fish and birds in the area. Fish and birds ensnared in plastic line or bottle holders is a particularly disturbing site. Observant Citizen Scientists reporting on the health of the Key’s waterways will provide the information needed to ensure these features remain enjoyable experiences.
Key Biscayne’s Seagrasses
Seagrasses and associated algal communities provide essential habitat (i.e., food, refuge) for fish and invertebrates and play key ecosystem and societal roles in maintaining water quality by trapping sediments and up-taking nutrients. Seagrass beds composed of three species, manatee grass, shoal grass, and turtle grass are abundant in shallow nearshore habitats around Key Biscayne where they can be visited and enjoyed by swimmers, kayakers, and boaters. The organisms commonly found in and around seagrass beds range from very small fish such as seahorses to marine mammals like dolphins.
One of the main threats to seagrass habitats in Key Biscayne and elsewhere is the physical damage caused by careless boaters that run aground or cause significant propeller scarring. Protection of these habitats is essential for the sustainability of marine resources in our region.