Surrounded by clear ocean waters and diverse sea life, the Florida Keys, a chain of tropical islands, is composed of several interdependent communities existing in dynamic equilibrium. These different communities run the gamut from hardwood forests to coral reefs and make the Keys a popular place to live and an important vacation destination.
The Keys has approximately 78,000 permanent, year-round residents (1990 census); the population increases by about 25,000 during winter, the peak tourist season. Approximately 70 percent of Keys residents regularly participate in water-based activities. Maintenance of the integrity and ecological health of marine and terrestrial environments is critical to the economy of the Keys.
Human activities have negatively impacted the ecological balance of the Florida Keys ecosystem. Large-scale physical impacts, such as construction of barriers to tidal flushing, dredging and filling of seagrass beds and wetlands, and nutrient addition to waters surrounding the Keys have profoundly influenced the physical appearance of the Keys, as well as the balance of ecosystem functions.
Nutrient loading is a widespread factor that alters structure and function of aquatic ecosystems in coastal watersheds. The survival of the existing Florida Keys marine ecosystem is dependent on clear, low-nutrient waters. The continued discharge of nutrient-rich wastewater and stormwater into nearshore waters has degraded the water quality. If we continue to create sources of nutrients, it is likely that the ecological balance of nearshore communities will be changed. Since this community is based on the tourism industry, saving our waters by eliminating excessive nutrients will allow our economy to flourish.
Restoration of degraded portions of the Keys aquatic ecosystem may be possible, but it will require the combined effort of the entire community of the Florida Keys, with help from federal and State governments. In recognition of the warning signals of degraded water quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Florida, in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have, at the direction of Congress, prepared a Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is hoped that full implementation of the WQPP will reverse
The only way to restore degraded portions of the Keys aquatic ecosystem is through the combined effort of the entire community of the Keys with help from federal and state governments. In recognition of the warning signals of degraded water quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Florida, in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have, at the direction of Congress, prepared a Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. WQPP has led to the establishment of Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District, which is currently implementing an advanced wastewater treatment plant. This plant will help reverse the trend of environmental degradation and restore and maintain the Florida Keys marine ecosystem.