Housed under beautiful pavilions constructed with wooden beams and green metal roofs, each of the four saltwater aquariums represents a different Southeast Florida marine habitat. The aquariums feature local organisms, naturalistic habitats, and viewing from all sides. The two shallow aquariums represent the coastal mangrove community and a nearshore reef. The two deeper aquariums represent a tropical coral reef and an artificial reef/shipwreck.
The first habitat you'll find as you step into Florida’s coastal waters are the mangroves lining both banks of the Intracoastal Waterway between the mainland and the barrier island. We showcase 16,000 gallons full of plants and animals native to this environment. This habitat is a vital nursery ground, for many fish and other organisms. It protects our shoreline during storms, including hurricanes. You can help protect this habitat by preventing trash and pollutants from making their way into storm drains that lead directly into our local waterways and becoming trapped in the mangroves.
As we continue moving through the ecosystems of our local coast past the mangroves, you’ll find the nearshore habitat. This 10,000-gallon aquarium is a great example of the rocky structures and organisms you should find as you snorkel right off the beach from Palm Beach County north to Cape Canaveral. These structures are built by small worms as they form sand tubes around themselves for protection. Fish and juvenile sea turtles use this area for shelter before they are large enough to swim out to the deep ocean. Please do your part by looking and not touching when you are out snorkeling and diving around this habitat.
Photo: Ben Hicks
Moving from the shallower ecosystems to the deeper environments, we come to the coral reef habitat. This 20,000-gallon coral reef aquarium provides a glimpse into the habitat and organisms you could find diving in 30’ to 90’ of water in Palm Beach County. Did you know Florida has the third largest barrier reef in the world? The reef is built by coral, an animal that has symbiotic algae living within the tissue that gives the coral its color and food. Unfortunately, when the coral is stressed, often from rising seawater temperatures, it will expel that algae in a process known as coral bleaching. Many different stressors are contributing to the decline of coral reefs worldwide. Please do your part by enjoying this habitat while wearing a reef-safe sunscreen and reducing your carbon footprint at home.
Photo: Ben Hicks
Our final aquarium is an example of an artificial reef habitat in Southeast Florida. Specifically, this one replicates a ship sunk to become a habitat for fish. At 32,000 gallons, it is our largest exhibit with our biggest animals. Artificial habitats offer an alternative place for people to dive and fish without directly impacting our coral reefs, but they do not replace natural coral reefs. And speaking of fishing, please follow local guidelines and remember to make sustainable choices when purchasing and eating seafood.