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Concluding Remarks

Pleistocene Geology
Holocene Geology
Water Resources
Case Study
Concluding Remarks

The Florida Keys are now recognized as one of the great recreational and environmental resources of the United States. The islands are outposts of a laid-back, tropical resort culture that has as its foundation warmth and clear water. A significant part of the attraction is fishing, diving, and boating around the area's coral reefs, which the islands protect. But the reefs were not always so highly valued.

From the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century, the islands were a desolate place. Most of those who lived in the Florida Keys survived on the misfortune of others. The islands were home to pirates and "wreckers." The latter made their living from salvaging shipwrecks, and some islanders were not above moving lights to lure ships onto the reefs at night. The toll on shipping was so great that by the mid-1800s, Louis Agassiz was sent by the Coast Survey to determine "whether the growth of coral reefs can be prevented, or the result remedied, which are so unfavorable to the safety of navigation" (Agassiz, 1880, p. 39). If it had been possible, the U.S. Government might have terminated reef growth in the Keys during the last century!

After careful study, Agassiz replied that the reef would continue to grow and that "the sooner a system of lighthouses and signals is established along the whole reef, the better" (Agassiz, 1881, p. 40). Thus the Federal government began an ambitious period of lighthouse building in the Keys that lasted from 1852 until 1886. Ironically, a few years ago the major shipping lanes in the Straits of Florida were moved away (seaward) from the Florida Keys - not for the protection of shipping, but for the protection of the reefs.

It is now widely recognized that coral cover is decreasing on many reefs off the Florida Keys (NOAA, 1995). The cause is generally believed to be direct and indirect human impacts, particularly those associated with water quality. The great increase in development on the Florida Keys is most often cited as the source of decreased water quality in the region, although the detailed mechanisms for reef decline are not yet established. The Florida Keys that have protected the reefs for millennia, may now be the source of the agents which will accomplish what Agassiz thought was beyond man's power a century ago.

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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM (KP)