Biscayne National Park
The coastal wilderness of south Florida was the first spot in North America explored by Europeans. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon sailed across Biscayne Bay in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth in 1513.
Later, travelers like land surveyor Andrew Ellicott recorded the bounty of life in the region. "Fish are abundant," Ellicott wrote in 1799. "[Sea] Turtles are also to be had in plenty; those we took were of three kinds; the loggerhead, hawk-bill, and green."
In the 1800's and 1900's many settlers of the keys earned their living from the bay. Among them were Key West fishermen who collected fast growing, "fine qualify" bay sponges and sold them.
Today commercial fishermen, snorkelers, and boaters still reap bountiful rewards from the bay. The bay's good health is reflected in the numbers of different kinds of fishmore than 250that spend part of their lives in it. Many of the fish that dazzle snorkelers and divers on the coral reefs by day feed in the bay by night. And, like the mangrove shoreline, the bay plays a critical role as a fish nursery. The young of many coral reef fish, such as parrot and butterfly fish, and sports fish, such as grunts, snappers, and the highly prized Spanish Mackerel, find food and shelter from big, hungry predators in the bay's thick jungle of mangrove grasses.
Peering into the crystal waters of Biscayne Bay it is hard to imagine either its past or its future clouded. The bay seems suspended in time. While neighboring Miami has mushroomed into a metropolis of more than 1 1/2 million people, the bay appears to have captured the magic of the Fountain of Youth that eluded Ponce de Leon. It has remained beautiful and relatively unspoiled. Though thousands of years old, it is still vibrant with life. But this has not always been true.
Earlier in this century parts of the bay were dying. In some areas to the north of the park, pollutants were poisoning the bay and construction was sending suffocating amounts of sediments into it. Today, after years of cleanup, the north bay is recovering and the rest of the bay remains nearly pristine.
In 1895 biologist Hugh Smith declared that Biscayne Bay was "one of the finest bodies of water on the coast of Florida." In another hundred years, if well-protected, it still could be.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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