The Florida Keys: Stateparks And Wildlife
In the Florida Keys, state parks and wildlife refuges provide oppurtunities to explore the unique ecosystems of the wildlife, and the diverse beauty of the coral reefs.
The Florida Keys, a chain of mangrove covered islands that extend from the southern tip of Florida, are a naturalist's utopia. The islands and waters that surround them are infused with many aspects of nature's stunning creations. State parks and wildlife refuges provide oppurtunities to explore the unique ecosystems, wildlife, and diverse beauty of the coral reefs.
State parks and wildlife refuges protect the diverse ecosystems of the keys. They also provide us with windows into the untouched natural world. The Great White Heron Wildlife Refuge extends for several miles just west of the lower keys. It consists of several mangrove covered islands, which serve as rookeries for herons, egrets, brown pelicans, and cormorants. The Dry Tortugas National Park, which is seventy miles west of Key West and accesible by boat or seaplane only, provides sandy beaches edged with pristine emerald waters, where many birds and marine animals can be found, including sea turtles which gave the islands their name. In spring and early summer the Dry Tortugas are taken over by sooty terns and magnificent frigate birds, which nest in the shadow of historic Fort Jefferson. The Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge on Big Pine Key boasts the larget scrub pine forest in the keys. Many species of plants and animals can be found in the sanctuary, including the endangered key deer, which can suddenly appear anytime and any place on the island.
Protected within these parks and wildlife refuges are several unique and interesting species. The key deer is a miniature sub-species of the Virginia white tail deer. Due to population isolation and limited supplies of freshwater and food, the key deer evolved into a smaller version of their mainland counterparts. The bird life in the keys is very diverse. Brown pelicans can be seen dive bombing schools of fish to procure their dinner. Cormorants sit, wings agape, drying their waterlogged plumage in the warmth of the sun. Flocks of white ibis poke their curved beaks into the shallows as they search for crustaceans and invertebrates. Roseate spoonbills, with their vibrant pink plumage and bizarre bills, can also be found feeding in the shallows. Ospreys constantly guard their massive nests, which they build on tall structures such as telephone poles, trees, and man-made platforms. Hawks and falcons often perch on power lines or tree limbs as they scan the ground for rodents and frogs.
The most spectacular sights in the keys, however, can be found underwater on the coral reefs, which are the only living coral reefs in U.S. waters. The clear turquois water reveals huge yellow mounds of brain coral etched with mazes no one could solve. As the current dances with the swaying grace of the deep-purple sea fan, pink and blood-red urchins protect their fragile bodies with festive spines, which make them look like living explosions. With radiance and purpose, schools of multicolored fish swim in synchronization, mimicking the fluidity of their enviroment. Meanwhile, the sleek and stealthy barracuda hunts within the corals and crags for the lively yellow-tailed snapper. The diverse life on the reef provides a living tapestry of colors and shapes.
No matter what your favorite aspect of nature, the Florida Keys has something for you to visit and enjoy time and again. Refuges and parks provide glimpses of wildlife, diverse ecosystems, and spectacular reefs, which make the Florida Keys a paradise for all who appreciate the wonders of nature.