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South Florida: How Are You Connected?
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South Florida: How Are You Connected?

By Erica Rule, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory

Mauna Loa

Mauna Loa

NOAA'sMauna Loa observatory in Hawaii is the oldest continuous carbon dioxide (CO2.) measurement station in the world and a primary global benchmark site for tracking the increase of this potent heat-trapping gas. (Mary Miller, Exploratorium)
People who vacation, live, boat, swim, snorkel, bird watch, or eat seafood in south Florida are “connected” to south Florida’s marine habitats. With populations increasing in coastal communities such as south Florida it is important to understand the impact humans have on these environments, and how the changing marine environment influences the way we live and how we plan for the future along our coasts.

Pamela Fletcher, a Florida Sea Grant liaison to NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), leads extension efforts in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast Region. Her focus is to make connections between the latest science and management techniques based in south Florida’s ecosystems and people who enjoy and rely on the health of these ecosystems. Fletcher’s latest approach is a visually stimulating, science-based book about South Florida’s marine environments.

William Kruczynski of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency partnered with Pamela Fletcher to create and edit Tropical Connections: South Florida's marine environment to give readers a single comprehensive source for easy to understand information about south Florida’s marine ecosystems. Born out of the idea to foster interactions among ecosystem researchers and citizens, the book attempts to bridge the gap with students, educators, lay readers, and decision makers.

Rainfall record

Rainfall record

Grounds of Boulder, Colorado, High School on September 13, 2013 following historic rainfall and flooding. By September 16, the month-to-date precipitation was already more than 1.7 times any monthly rainfall total since records began in the late 1880s. (Photo courtesy Bruce H. Raup).
Their goal is to take readers on a journey through the history of this coastal region, including changes in human populations, land management decisions and impacts, and overviews of the plant and animal biological systems that are the jewels of this region.

"We prepared this book to summarize technical information on the south Florida marine ecosystem in a manner that is easy to read and understand," said co-editor Pamela Fletcher. “We wanted to take all of the valuable lessons being learned in our research institutions and management agencies and transfer them in a meaningful way to everyone connected to this ecosystem.” 

To help meet that goal, the book is being distributed to all of the schools and libraries in all of the south Florida counties. Elisabeth Jacobi, a Broward County marine science teacher, former Broward county Environmental Educator of the Year and NOAA Teacher at Sea, plans to use the book in her classroom. “A resource like this has never existed before,” said Jacobi. “It succinctly touches on all aspects of our marine ecosystem and will help me teach the next generation of coastal citizens to understand, enjoy, and hopefully protect the beauty and richness of this region.”

The editors felt it was essential to use a non-technical writing style to simply and concisely describe these relationships, including the dramatic changes in south Florida's marine ecosystem over the last few decades. They summarize the status and threats to south Florida marine habitats, a unique environment of the United States that is under severe pressure because of activities related to human development and naturally occurring phenomena.

Tracking carbon emissions

Tracking carbon emissions

Working with over 160 contributing scientists and managers, the editors created a primer consisting of one- to two-page topical fact pages describing many efforts to understand the stresses on the structure and function of south Florida's marine ecosystem. Clear and concise entries touch every aspect of the marine ecosystem, from mangrove forests to coral reefs. Richly illustrated graphics created specifically for the fact pages effectively communicate the relationships and processes of this ecosystem.

The fact pages are organized into chapters that capture important elements of research and management activities in the region. Introductions highlight and encourage readers to discover interesting facts about research techniques, scientific findings, and management strategies conducted or carried out in south Florida.

In addition to Fletcher’s contributions, nine scientists from AOML contributed fact pages to the book (click here to see their contributions), covering topics such as coastal ocean currents, observing systems, water quality, the roles of sea surface temperature and salinity, plankton, and the impacts of hurricanes. Other regional NOAA contributors include the Southeast Fisheries Science Center and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

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