Water Quality Protection Program



Water quality is everyone's business, even those who don't live on the coast. View this video to find out more about what contributes to declines in water quality.
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Good water quality is critical to the health of coral reefs and all the habitats of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Changes in water quality, including increases in levels of specific nutrients, can have serious negative effects on marine life. To better understand how humans have an impact on water quality and how those changes affect sanctuary habitats, the Water Quality Protection Program was created in 1994.
The Water Quality Protection Program is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. The program is designed to make recommendations on how to maintain and restore the ideal water quality needed for healthy native plant and animal populations to thrive in sanctuary waters. Through the Water Quality Protection Program, water quality, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs have been monitored in the sanctuary since the mid-1990s.

Information from these long-term monitoring programs provides insight into the complex balance of the marine ecosystem in the Florida Keys. This information also allows researchers and managers to detect any changes in the sanctuary from upstream influences.
For additional information, read Water Quality: Frequently Asked Questions (pdf, 1 MB).

For more information on water quality regulations that affect boaters, read Boaters: Vessel Sewage Restrictions Protect Environment (pdf, 1 MB).


Water Quality Monitoring Program

coral and fish

Since 1995, scientists from Florida International University have been collecting water quality samples at 154 sites throughout the Florida Keys as part of the Water Quality Monitoring Program. Water quality is based on many factors, including the levels of specific nutrients — nitrogen and phosphate — which are often found in high concentrations in wastewater and stormwater. If the levels of these nutrients get too high it put stress on marine life, making them more prone to disease and even death.

Scientists in the Water Quality Monitoring Program also look at how sanctuary waters are influenced by activities outside the Florida Keys.

For more information, read the Water Quality Monitoring Program Science Summary (pdf, 512 kb).

Coral Reef Monitoring Program

close up of coral

The health of the coral reef ecosystem in the Florida Keys depends on the quality of water in which the corals live. Even a slight deterioration in water quality can be stressful to the reef. To collect valuable information about the reef ecosystem, scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began systematically monitoring coral reefs throughout Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1996. This research program, called the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Program (CREMP), studies various aspects of reef health at 40 sites throughout the sanctuary.

CREMP scientists look at the coral health as it relates to the quality of the water. Coral reef research and monitoring are especially important for tracking the effects of increasing seawater temperatures and sea level rise associated with the Earth's changing climate.

For more information, read the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Science Summary (pdf, 783 kb).

Seagrass Monitoring Program

scientist studying seagrass

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and adjacent waters are home to some of the largest seagrass meadows in the world. Seagrass provides critical nursery and feeding grounds for many invertebrates, fish, birds, reptiles, and marine mammals, including many species that are important to the local fisheries. It also supports the productive coral reefs of the sanctuary. Since 1995, scientists from Florida International University have been studying seagrass to track changes over time, in particular changes caused by increased nutrient levels in nearshore waters.

Seagrass prefers water with a lower amount of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphate. When nutrients increase, other plants which prefer higher nutrient levels may move in and replace seagrass. Too many nutrients can also cause tiny plants which float in the water to flourish and block sunlight, which the seagrass needs to survive.

Scientists with the Seagrass Monitoring Program sample and analyze the health of seagrass meadows at 30 permanent sites and additional random sites. These studies can detect changes in seagrass meadows even before there has been any significant loss of this vital habitat.

For more information, read the Seagrass Monitoring Project Science Summary (pdf, 806 kb) and Seagrass Meadows and Nutrients Science Summary (pdf, 629 kb).

Special Projects

Special studies in the Water Quality Protection Program have helped scientists and managers to better understand a host of topics including groundwater seepage, the effects of mosquito-control measures on non-target animals, human pathogens in canals, and the effects of pharmaceutical drugs on marine life.

Good water quality is essential to a healthy marine ecosystem in the Florida Keys. Seagrass meadows and coral reefs thrive in clean, clear waters. People like to swim, fish, and dive in clean, clear waters. While on the water, take steps to protect water quality and help preserve the marine environment and the Keys' way of life.