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South Florida Information Access - Virtual Tour

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Florida Bay and Florida Keys

Map of Florida Bay and Keys
Map showing location of Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.
Florida Bay, beyond the southern tip of Florida and along the southern shores of Everglades National Park, is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist. Interspersed throughout Florida Bay are numerous mangrove island keys. Mangroves whose roots and trunks trap mud, leaves and other debris form these keys. A key may grow in size as material is accumulated.

The Florida Keys is a chain of small islands and reefs that extend in a southwesterly arc off the coast of South Florida. The only living coral reef in the continental United States runs east of and parallel to the Keys, a few miles offshore. The Florida Keys are made of fossilized coral rock and are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the south side and the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay on the north side. Wildlife found in the Keys includes waterbirds, alligators, crocodiles, loggerhead turtles, Key deer, and manatees.

Come for a boat ride and visit some of the mangrove key islands found in northeast Florida Bay, or stay on the mainland and visit the State Geological Site of Windley Quarry.

A photo gallery is available for this page. [Photos taken December, 1999]

Welcome to the Florida Keys
map showing location of keysWindley QuarryBlack Betsy KeyBob Allen KeysLittle Madeira BayButtonwood SoundShell KeyNest KeysBoggy Key
Map showing location of keys. Click on names to visit that section.

Boggy Key
photo of a channel through mangroves Looking through a channel between the (mangrove tree) key islands, south of Boggy Key, approximately 1 1/2 miles out from Key Largo’s shore. When hurricane warnings are issued, many boaters will anchor in the channels between the mangrove keys for protection against storm conditions.

photo of mangroves up close A close-up view of a mangrove islet, seen south of Boggy Key, approximately 1 1/2 mile out from Key Largo’s shore. The intricate webs of mangrove tree roots trap sediments and debris. Over time, accumulated materials may enlarge the key's size. photo of mangroves

photo of ship with many many items on it
About 1 mile out from Key Largo’s shore, an old man and his belongings reside on this boat nestled between the mangroves that make up Boggy Key.
photo of a heron in the treesA great white heron standing atop the mangrove roots of Boggy Key. This heron has a limited range, which includes the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park. It is rarely seen outside of these areas.

The great white heron is often confused with the great egret. Consider your geographical location and look for the heron's distinguishing light colored legs to aid recognition.

Quiz Question: Can YOU tell a great white heron from a great egret?
photo of a bird
Location: Florida Keys
photo of a bird
Location: Fakahatchee Strand
State Preserve, Florida
Which one is the egret?

Ospreys Quiz Question: What is the common name for an Osprey?
photo of an ospreyAn osprey sitting in its nest atop a channel marker. Osprey pairs commonly use man-made structures for nest sites and use the same nest site season after season.

Ospreys almost exclusively eat fish. They dive for fish swimming at the surface, and just before hitting the water, throw their taloned feet forward to grasp their prey.

Pleasant Point in Buttonwood Sound

photo of plesant point (left) Looking out from Buttonwood Sound, over the open waters of Florida Bay. The various key islands on the horizon are dwarfed by the enormous storm clouds.

(right) Looking out from Buttonwood Sound, over Florida Bay. Beyond the short outcropping of mangroves, aquamarine waters and various island keys are seen on the horizon.

Sky color, suspended solids in the water and the angle of the sun on the water affect the appearance of water color. The presence of lime (coral reefs are made of lime) also affects these colors.

photo of Florida Bay from Buttonwood Sound

Just another day at the office
photo of USGS scientists snorkeling
photo of USGS scientists drawing samples
photo of USGS scientist collecting water samples
(left) USGS scientist snorkels in Buttonwood Sound to locate groundwater sampling well. (middle) USGS scientists assemble a pump to be used to draw samples from a Buttonwood Sound groundwater sampling well. (right) USGS scientist collecting water samples from the relatively shallow waters of Buttonwood Sound.

Nest Keys

IPIX - Nest Keys (Collecting Samples)  
Navigate around this 360° view of the Nest Key shoreline and Florida Bay. A USGS scientist exits the boat to locate a groundwater sampling well and collect samples.

Navigate around this 360° view around Nest Key, and take a virtual dip in Florida Bay.

  IPIX image of Nest Key
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

IPIX - Nest Keys (Close to Shore)  
Navigate around this 360° view around Nest Key shoreline - but make sure you get back to the boat before it storms!   IPIX image of Nest Key
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

Come on in, the water's fine!
photo of a USGS scientists collecting samples (left) USGS scientist at left marks the Nest Key groundwater sampling well location while the USGS scientist at right collects and records field data.

(right) Looking out from Nest Key, over the open waters of Florida Bay.

photo of Nest Key

Shell Key
photo of mangrovesRed mangroves and their root systems at the edge of Shell Key. Red mangroves grow arching and branching prop roots from trunks and drop roots from branches to anchor into the muck bay bottom. Some scientists believe that the exposed roots allow the trees to take in oxygen.

Little Madeira Bay photo of Little Madeira Bay
Looking south from Little Madeira Bay at a line of key islands in Florida Bay.

photo looking from the shore of Black Besty Key Black Betsy Keys
Looking from the Black Betsy Keys shore, onto waters of Florida Bay. On the horizon, key islands separate the green bay waters from the blue cloud-filled skies.

Bob Allen Keys

photo of mangroves in Bob Allen Key
A short walk through the shallow mangrove perimeter to the interior of Bob Allen Key affords this view of a mostly clear, shallow ponded area.

IPIX - Bob Allen Keys  
Navigate around this 360° view of a shallow ponded area found on the interior of Bob Allen Key.   IPIX image of Bob Allen Key
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

Gassing up our boat

Here's our heron!
photo of a heron standing As we were gassing up the boat for our return trip, an inquisitive great white heron flew near to investigate. Great white herons are a color phase of great blue herons. They have a limited range that includes the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park and are rarely sighted outside of these locations. photo of a heron
photo of a heron taking off(below, right) The impressive wing span of a great white heron. This large bird grows to over four feet long (50 - 54 inches).

Windley Quarry

Windley Quarry, owned by the state of Florida, is located at the Windley Key Fossil Reef State Geological Site in the middle Florida Keys on Windley Key.

In the early 1900s, Henry Flagler of the Florida East Coast Railroad purchased the land that is now Windley Quarry to mine limestone for the construction of his railroad. After the railways were completed and until the early 1960s, the site was used as a source for decorative stones and building materials. When the land was sold to condominium developers in 1979, a group from Windley Key petitioned the state to buy the land. As a result, in 1985, the state purchased the land and it is today one of only two State Geological Sites in Florida.

IPIX - Windley Quarry  
Navigate around this 360° view from the floor of Windley Quarry. The yellow building houses the Alison Fahrer Environmental Education Center, which contains exhibits focusing on past and present geological aspects of barrier coral reef.   IPIX image of Windley Quarry
Note: You will need the free IPIX viewer to view this 360° image  

Quarry pictures
photo of the quarry cutterQuarry cutters setting atop large blocks of cut coral. Using machinery such as these, laborers chiseled large blocks of coral to serve as supports for railroad bridges. photo of limestone in Windley Quarry
Skeletal patterns within the quarry wall show how coral formations might grow inside a coral reef.

Related SOFIA Information

Below we have listed science projects and publications for studies that are being conducted, or have been conducted, in the Florida Bay and Florida Keys Areas. Follow these links to read about each project and to see project-related publications and data.

Science Projects:

Related Publications:



U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Center for Coastal Geology
This page is: http://sofia.usgs.gov /virtual_tour/flbay/index.html
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Heather Henkel - Webmaster (hhenkel@usgs.gov)
Last updated: January 15, 2013 @ 12:44 PM(KP)