Saturday, 1 May 2010

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Visitors Centre

Hi everyone

Today, Sam and I visited the official Visitor Center of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. Sam told me that this facility was funded by many Environmental Resource Agencies, including NOAA, The National Park Service, South Florida Water Management District, Mote Marine Laboratory, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Center has a full-sized model of the research laboratory Aquarius. This is a special underwater laboratory on the reef where scientists can live for a while, allowing them to study the coral reef without having to keep going back to the surface. I thought this was really amazing, so I have included this link so you can find out more. http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/missions/aquarius2007/

There is also a 75 seat theatre which shows an amazing movie about the Florida Keys environment. I was fascinated by the 2400 gallon (over 9,000 litres) coral reef aquarium, and there were lots of other interactive exhibits.
Admission is free, but donations are accepted to help fund research and environmental programs throughout the Florida Keys. I wanted to help, so I donated my last dollar before starting my tour!

I discovered something really amazing. You probably know that plants use the suns energy to make food. Well, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center uses the suns energy to make electricity. In fact it gets about 30% or more of its electricity from the sun! Many rolls of a new type of flat solar panel were attached to the roof of the building recently using special glue.
The screen I am looking at in this photo has a real-time display of how much electricity is being produced by the solar panels. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State”, so there is no better place to take advantage of solar power and reduce dependence on non-sustainable energy sources. Back home in the UK where I live, just off the south coast, we may soon have an offshore wind farm because we are one of the windiest places. I think I like the sun better!
Here I am sitting in the roots of a Red Mangrove tree. These special roots are able to filter salt from the ocean so they can provide fresh water for the tree. One of the staff told me that these trees are also responsible for building the islands in the Florida Keys, and serve many functions in the environment here. They provide habitat for countless fish and other animals in their underwater roots. Animals are able to hide from predators and forage for food in the complex root systems. These trees also trap sediment and keep the islands from washing away in heavy waves and storms.
Not only that, but the tops of the trees provide a home and nesting areas for many species of birds, including cormorants, pelicans, and the magnificent frigate bird (see above). These mangrove plants are pretty special.

The Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center has many Aquariums which are cared for by staff from Mote Marine Laboratory. Here I am next to a very dangerous invader to the Florida Keys; the Indo-Pacific Lionfish. Lionfish are very beautiful but they are an invasive species which means they are not native to the Atlantic Ocean. The first lionfish observed in the Keys was in January 2009. Now, reports of lionfish are received almost daily. Lionfish are voracious eaters and can hurt the coral reef and by eating too many of the native fish they are literally taking over the reef.

This is a big problem worldwide with invasive species. When they move or are introduced to areas they don’t normally live they have no natural predators. This means there is nothing to keep their numbers in balance with all the other marine animals and they start to take over causing lots of damage. You may remember from my earlier travels that there are invasive lionfish on the US Monitor Wreck. Lionfish also have venomous spines which can injure divers and snorkelers.

I had a really fun visit to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center! Sam and I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Coral, Craig, and Denny for showing us around and helping us learn about the Florida Keys. It seems like a beautiful and amazing place. Before we left, we visited the gift shop. I really liked some of the books and I want to try snorkeling on the reef, but I donated my last dollar…”Hey Sam, can I borrow a few bucks?” Sam and I are going to head out over the next few days to see if we can visit with some of the animals we learned about. We also hope to get an up-close introduction to some of the science that goes on behind the scenes in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Come back soon and find out what we get up to next, Ed and Sam.

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