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The Virginia Current, originating in the Labrador Current to the north, flows southward along the middle Atlantic states of the U. The region thus has a high diversity of cold-temperate, warm-temperate, and tropical species. The warming influence of the Gulf Stream in the SAB is especially notable from January through March near the shelf break, where tropical species of fishes, corals, and other animals are found. In South Florida, land reclamation and water management projects have diverted most flow from the Everglades which formerly flowed into Florida Bay into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

River runoff is highest during March and April, and tropical weather systems provide additional freshwater input from June through October, particularly in South Florida. Seasonal heating and cooling of coastal and shelf waters follow a trend in air temperature increase and decrease, with a lag of approximately one month. Semidiurnal tides dominate, the range varing considerately because of differing shelf widths.

The maximum coastal tides of 2. Tidal range in the Florida Keys and Florida Bay is less than 1 m. Small frontal eddies and meanders propagate northward along the western edge of the Gulf Stream every weeks, providing small-scale upwelling of nutrients along the shelf break of the SAB. In two areas of the SAB upwelling of nutrient-rich deep water is more permanent.

The consistent upwelling of nutrient-rich deep waters in this region is the main steady source of nutrients near the shelf break within the entire SAB, and contributes significantly to primary and secondary production in the region. Eddy formation along the inshore edge of the Gulf Stream results in retention of eggs and larvae and their transport onshore.

The width of the continental shelf varies from just a few kilometers off West Palm Beach south through the Florida Keys, to km wide off Brunswick and Savannah, Georgia. Off of South Florida through the ocean side of the Florida Keys, the shelf is narrow, capped by coral reefs out to the shelf edge, and under the influence of the warm tropical Florida Current.

Sand- and mud-bottom areas of the continental shelf and slope support less biomass and lower diversity of species than hard-bottom areas, but sustain a few important fishery species, such as tilefish Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps , flounders Paralichthys spp. Hard-bottom areas of the continental shelf throughout the SAB support a warm-temperate or tropical fauna, owing to structurally complex rocky reef formations and the proximity of warm Gulf Stream waters.

Research Database

The rocky outcrops from North Carolina south to Cape Canaveral and the ridges off South Florida function as reefs and provide substrate for a great diversity and biomass of sessile invertebrates and algae. Diverse assemblages of polychaetes, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, and other invertebrates inhabit the attached sponges, corals, and ascidians and shelter in the complex rocky bottom. Reef fish assemblages of economically valuable snappers Lutjanidae , groupers Serranidae , grunts Haemulidae , porgies Sparidae , and diverse tropical families such as wrasses Labridae , damselfishes Pomacentridae , and others are associated with the complex hard bottom.

South of Cape Canaveral, a ridge system parallel to the shoreline of Florida exists along drowned coral reef tracts; these coral reefs and worm-tube and coquina-shell reefs in shallow water harbor many reef species. South of Miami, the Florida Keys contain the only system of shallow reef-building corals in the continental U. Although lower in coral diversity than the nearby Caribbean Sea, these reefs contain a high diversity of other invertebrates and fishes. Whereas the shelf break in the SAB occurs at about 50 m depth, in the Keys it occurs in depths from 10 to 20 m.

The Florida reef tract extends in a curve of about km and encompasses 6, patch reefs and well-developed spur-and-groove and shelf-edge coral ridge formations. Saltmarshes and estuaries, which are particularly well developed along the southeast coast [70] , include 24, km 2 of coastal wetlands, including 3, km 2 of salt and brackish marsh.

An Overview of Marine Biodiversity in United States Waters

The region from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, through the Dry Tortugas, Florida, includes about 1, km of coast interrupted by hundreds of rivers, sounds, estuaries, and inlets that provide a wide diversity of habitats. About 1, km of this encompasses the SAB embayment between Cape Hatteras and Cape Canaveral that includes a band up to 12 km wide of salt marsh and tidal creeks that serve as important nursery habitat and are particularly well developed off South Carolina and Georgia.


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The Indian River Lagoon, Biscayne Bay, and Florida Bay estuaries are fringed by mangroves and include mangrove islets, with associated attached epifauna and motile invertebrates and fishes. The Indian River Lagoon system is particularly high in diversity because of tropical influences. These estuaries are important nursery areas for many marine fishes that spend their adult lives offshore. The continental slope off the southeastern U.

The fauna of the slope and Blake Plateau is poorly known because of the difficulty of sampling deep, hard rocky bottoms under the swift Gulf Stream current. The hard bottoms of the Blake Plateau are colonized by a wide variety of deep-sea sponges and corals, and in some places the corals have formed significant mound and ridge systems up to m tall with associated sponges, other cnidarians, mollusks, polychaetes, crustaceans, echinoderms, and fishes see review in [71].

Surveys and collections of marine organisms of southeastern North America began during the U.

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These two volumes contained descriptions and a checklist of many marine crustaceans, fishes, turtles, birds, and mammals. Many collections were sent to Europe for study during the American colonial period, and checklists of marine species were compiled as studies of the specimens were published. Of particular note were the collections of Alexander Garden of Charleston, South Carolina, who collected what were used as type specimens for original descriptions of regionally emblematic species such as striped mullet Mugil cephalus , mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus , black sea bass Centropristis striata , and bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix , among many others.

Early exploratory studies offshore along the Atlantic coast of the southeastern U. From to , the U.

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These surveys were aimed primarily at bottom-living organisms. Agassiz [74] described habitats including important hard-bottom and sponge-coral habitats of the southeastern shelf , oceanographic features including the Blake Plateau, other bottom features, and the Gulf Stream , and organisms including many new genera and species of the continental shelf and deep sea of the region, and noted similarities and differences between the fauna and that of the Caribbean to the south. The Gulf Stream was noted as a major influence on faunal composition on the outer continental shelf; cold-temperate benthic species were found inshore and offshore of the Gulf Stream on bottoms of a variety of types.

These early descriptions of deep corals collected on the Blake Plateau, along with recent concern for damage to fragile deep-coral habitats by fishing, have led to recent exploration of deep coral banks and other deep habitats in the SAB-Florida East Coast area see NOAA Ocean Exploration, below. Descriptions of oceanic fishes from early expeditions including those of the Blake were summarized in by Goode and Bean [75]. Since the mid-twentieth century, NOAA and its predecessor agencies e.


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  • Beginning in the s, ships such as Silver Bay , Pelican , Oregon , and Gill conducted exploratory fishing surveys using trawl nets. These early surveys found concentrations of snappers, groupers, and other economically valuable fishes associated with rocky outcrops and other hard-bottom reefs on the continental shelf and shelf-edge.

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    They also documented the significant fishery resources drums, flatfishes, mullets, herrings, shrimps of soft-bottom communities. Many taxonomic e. Fishery surveys conducted or funded by NOAA, which continue, have included bottom-trawl and plankton surveys that have catalogued biodiversity. Additional surveys using dredges, grabs, and other benthic samplers have collected invertebrates and new species.

    Significant regional invertebrate surveys of the SAB were conducted under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management BLM and Minerals Management Service MMS , as baseline environmental studies before anticipated petroleum exploration and production in the region e. From the last quarter of the twentieth century to the present, significant contributions to cataloging the biodiversity of the continental shelf and slope off North Carolina and in the tropical western North Atlantic were made by the Duke University Marine Laboratory DUML e.

    Marine resource agencies of the states have also conducted faunal and fishery surveys within state waters, particularly within estuaries.


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    Many of these surveys defined the distribution, life history, abundance, and biodiversity of species of historical, social, or economical importance, and resulted in checklists, identification guides, and life history reviews of ecologically dominant or economically valuable taxa. Many monographs documented diversity within taxa, which included seaweeds, sea anemones, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, sharks, bony fishes, turtles, birds, and whales e.

    An important review, checklist, and identification guide for fishes and many economically valuable invertebrates is included in Carpenter [69] , which lists fishes for the western Central Atlantic, most of which would be expected to be found in the SAB-Florida East Coast. Hare et al. The Florida Keys ecosystem supports over 6, species of plants algae, 5 seagrass , fishes , and invertebrates including 65 stony corals in the nation's only continental barrier coral reef and the largest contiguous seagrass community in the western hemisphere [90].

    Eggs or larvae of at least 70 families of fishes have been collected in ichthyoplankton surveys in the SAB [91]. The Bryozoa 91 taxa , Porifera 89 taxa , and Cnidaria 70 taxa dominated dredge collections from all seasons in terms of numbers of taxa. Porifera taxa were also well represented in trawl collections, along with other taxa such as decapod Crustacea 86 taxa , Bryozoa 85 taxa , and Mollusca 85 taxa. The work of Wenner et al. Blake and Grassle [93] found that the diversity of benthic slope fauna was much higher off the Carolinas than at similar depths in the Mid-Atlantic Bight.

    A station at m on the slope east of Charleston produced the highest diversity value ever recorded for the marine environment and supports the view that the region is probably an important reservoir for marine biodiversity [93]. Surveys of estuarine habitats have revealed moderate diversity levels of certain taxa. The areas of the most intense study of species assemblages and biodiversity are generally those of interest to fisheries, petroleum or mineral extraction, or ocean dumping, where faunal surveys and environmental impact assessments have been done.

    Fishery habitats of interest include estuarine oyster reefs and hard-bottom or coral reefs of the continental shelf and shelf edge. Faunal surveys for environmental assessment of benthic invertebrates and fishes have been done for nearshore dredge and dredged-material-disposal sites. Areas of well-known biodiversity are the coral reefs of the Florida Keys e.

    Diversity measurements in fish assemblages of hard-bottom reefs are higher than those noted in similar studies off the middle Atlantic states of the U.

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    Within the SAB, fish diversity increases with decreasing latitude on the continental shelf [97]. Within the entire SAB-Florida East Coast, the area of highest species richness is waters surrounding southern Florida, with diversity decreasing northward on either coast of the peninsula. The Straits of Florida are likely the most species-rich area for fishes in the Atlantic [69]. The pattern for species richness in fishes is repeated for levels of endemism, with the greatest concentration of endemic fishes centered on the Straits of Florida [69].

    Within the region, several species are of historical, social, or economic importance, or are emblematic of the region and the challenges faced in conservation of biodiversity. Some threatened and endangered species such as loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta and eastern brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis have been successfully saved from extinction, yet threats remain for them, as well as for Atlantic bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus , sturgeons Ascipenser spp. The poor condition of corals of the Florida Keys over the last three decades results from a combination of many factors, including effects of human population through coastal development, overfishing, ship groundings, and water quality degradation from terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric pollution including temperature increases.

    In a notice published on 12 February , NMFS announced it will evaluate the status of 82 species of stony coral that the Center for Biological Diversity has asked to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

    klewliosihitdi.cf These include Montastrea spp. Within the pelagic realm, the pelagic brown algae Sargassum natans and S. Deeper faunas of the continental slope and abyss are less well known than those of shelf areas, but were described in early explorations, and by Menzies et al. In recent years, the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration has funded collections and submersible observations of deep-reef and other habitats of the SAB, and additional checklists of species and descriptions of their habitats are emerging.

    Such studies on deep corals and sponges have revealed a high diversity of polychaetes, mollusks, and crustaceans associated with large sessile epifauna [99]. This is an area for additional exploration. The biodiversity of inquiline species is apparently high, but only a few individuals of a few species of sponge, coral, and ascidian have been examined for associated endofauna. A range of hosts, especially in deep water, is unexamined and may contain a great diversity of endofauna.