Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

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(Guidelines and Criteria Section B/ Ecological Criteria) Nominated areas must conform to at least one of the eight ecological criteria. Describe how the nominated site satisfies one or more of the following criteria. (Attach in Annex any relevant supporting documents.)

Conservation value:

Florida Bay's mangrove islands and seagrass beds are highly productive, faunally rich ecosystems that provide food, protection, and nesting sites for many species of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. These areas are critically important to commercial and recreational fish species, as 70 to 90 percent of the harvested species in the Gulf depend on coastal wetlands and seagrass beds during at least part of their life cycle. The shallow mud banks are essential for various species of wading birds, as they provide the only feeding access to the bay's fish populations.

Critical habitats:

The Keys' nearshore habitats and tidal channels are transitional areas of species mixing between the Gulf and the Atlantic, and the presence or absence of tidal passes, coupled with their bathymetric features (e.g., depth, width, current velocity, etc.), plays an important role in the distribution of biota and the establishment of marine communities within the Sanctuary. The region is an area of ecological and biological mixing where the temperate waters of the Gulf meet the tropical waters of the Atlantic, producing one of the most complex habitats in the Sanctuary. The majority of the commercially and recreationally important species in the region forage and seek shelter in the nearshore habitat both in their early life stages and as adults.