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Coastal waters around the world represent less than 10 percent of the ocean's surface, yet they account for 50 percent of its biological productivity. People make extensive use of coastal areas and their productivity.
Along Florida's 1,350 miles of general coastline and 8,426 miles of tidal coastline, we find diverse natural systems ranging from temperate saltmarshes and seagrasses in the north to subtropical mangroves and coral reefs in the south.
Coastal habitats shield Florida's coastline from damage by storms, provide food and shelter for 80% to 90% of all commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species, draw over one million boaters and divers each year, and attract over 75% of Floridians to reside in the state's 35 coastal counties. We value our coastal ecosystems, but we also put pressure on them.
We manage dredging, sewage inputs and other obvious pressures far better now than in the past, but we have only begun to deal with impacts from stormwater and other diffuse sources of pollution.
For example, landscaping, agriculture, home maintenance and use of internal combustion engines affect coastal water quality by adding nutrients and pollutants to Florida's watersheds and air sheds. In general, diffuse sources of pollution increase along with the annual increase in Florida's population. In response to the cumulative stress generated by these diffuse sources, management of coastal water quality has shifted from a focus on permits for point sources to a focus on ambient conditions and total maximum daily loads.
Other stresses include accidental destruction, loss due to development, reduced freshwater flow and introduction of non-native species. Habitat destruction and loss produce relatively obvious effects and management of these pressures is improving. Attention has turned to management of the more subtle effects of water quality and quantity, and altered bio diversity.
Floridians recognize the importance of water quality, and they ranked it as their second most important issue in a recent survey of environmental concerns.
In response, fostering a shared, science-based understanding of coastal systems represents a key goal of the Florida Sea Grant College Program.
We achieve this through research on the ecology of habitats and their restoration, on sources, transport and fate of materials entering our coastal waters, and on best management practices and communication of science and science-based management to lay audiences via a statewide network of extension professionals working in partnership with key public and private interests.