A CLASSROOM FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
It is used by kids and scientists alike to learn about marine life. From the simplest interaction to massive studies, it gives us a window into an amazing world of interacting forces and the organisms that have adapted to thrive in such an environment.
"By seeing it, we become aware. By touching it, we become connected. By understanding it, we become enlightened."
The Coquina rock that forms the foundation of the reef also forms the foundation of our entire barrier island system from St. Augustine to Ft. Lauderdale. We see it as some rocks poking out of the sand. Instead, think of our whole barrier island as a tiny ribbon of sand on top of a large plain of stone. The Coquina here was 'born' about 120,000 years ago when shells, corals, fossil fragments, and sediments were heated to over 140 degrees in the sun and became glued together by natural processes. This combined Limestone, Calcium and Quartz Carbonate, and Silica Sands forming the rocks that are the signature of our reef. Coquina of different varieties can be found all over the world, and it's cavities are the shelter for whole civilizations of tiny organisms. It's sediments are what Bi-valves, Snails, Crabs, Mollusks, and others use to build their body armor, and a rare worm called 'Sallibariid' attaches itself to the ledges and builds coral-like structures which tremendously enhance the ecological value of our reef. Coquina Rock was used by humans to build the Spanish Fort in St. Augustine, and many of the early roads and bridges in Florida including Henry Flagler's old 7-mile bridge to Key West. The word itself is Spanish for 'tiny shell'.
Tiny fragments of these Coquina rocks combine with other tiny pieces of shell and sands to form our beach. This diaspora of different grains washes back and forth with the tides and waves, constantly smoothing and separating these particles before they are eventually carried back out to sea.
Central Florida's location gives it a unique climate where tropical moisture and heat clashes with temperate continental air creating a turbulent soup with huge upwellings of warm moisture followed by breathtaking outfalls of cool breezes. It's evident in our cloud formations as they shift from explosive thunderheads in the summer to seemingly endless rivers of cumulus clouds in the winter. This interplay between air masses combines and interacts with the constant motion of the surf where sea meets land to form an environment that is never sitting still.
The Sea Breeze
In the summer we have a micro-climate phenomenon known as the Florida Sea Breeze. The sun heats up the land causing air to rise. This rising air creates a vacuum over the state which sucks the air in from the ocean. It is the source of our spectacular afternoon thunderstorms, and from May to July it brings significantly cooler air in from the ocean on a daily basis. Once the thunderstorms have exhausted their energy the air cools, sinks, and drifts back out to the ocean in the evenings. You can practically set your clock by it.
Our beaches represent the front lines in our struggle to adapt to climate change. As the ocean slowly rises, the shoreline moves landward. Humans love the beach as much as birds, turtles, crabs, and so many other native inhabitants, and we have built our homes as close to it as we can. All of us are caught in a struggle over how best to deal with this, and there is no shortage of different ideas. Approaches range from Managed Retreat where structures are removed as the beach moves towards them, to an all out war on nature by building walls, wave breaks, artificial reefs, elevating structures and roads, and even dumping millions of cubic yards of foreign material on beaches in the form of 'beach nourishment' or 'sand replenishment' projects. The shape of this debate is important and it's ups and downs are as transient as the ocean itself.
Brevard's Barrier Island Reef is located at the edge of a vast expanse of bare sand sea floor. It is a long and narrow oasis of life. The interplay of organisms and physical forces sets the stage for a wildly diverse ecology which would impress Darwin himself if he were still alive.The unique features of this environment play host to a unique and abundant array of living things which swim, fly, burrow, grow roots, and walk, and many which can't even be seen with the naked eye. Crabs with gills can survive in open air for long periods of time. Dolphins and turtles live in the water but breathe air, birds dive, fish jump, tiny worms build coral-like mounds, and every summer the Sea Turtles use the beach to make their nests and lay their eggs. Florida's near-shore hard bottom habitats are home to over 1000 species of organisms, and 257 recorded species of fish.
The Reef Builders - Worms??
The Sabellariid Worm is the organism responsible for creating the coral-like structures that we see growing and dissipating along the Coquina Rock ledges. These worms are protected and are the reason that the reef has been designated "Essential Fish Habitat" by The National Marine Fisheries and Wild Life Services. They colonize and form the tiny tubes on the surface of these 'corals' and enhance the habitat in ways that are unique, beneficial, and 'essential' to marine life. Currently there is a proposal to use these worms to restore the 'First Peak' in Sebastian. This is a groundbreaking project which uses ecological and ocean engineering in a unique and innovative way, and if successful, could lead to other advancements in coastal engineering.
Important: These worms build sand hoods over their tubes to protect themselves from drying out in the sun at low tide. Walking on a living worm reef crushes these hoods into the tubes, sealing them, and killing the worms. People should never walk on, scrape, or break pieces off the worm reefs.
There are 3 species of sea turtles which regularly call this habitat a home, and the reef serves as an important source of food and shelter for the juvenile turtles as they avoid predators and feed their growing bodies. Green Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, and Leatherback Turtles all nest along our beach. It is why the lights are turned off at the beach from March-October. They make their nests in the late spring and summer, and in the fall when the eggs hatch the baby turtles waddle down the beach to find themselves a nature-made nursery. Without the near-shore reefs in Florida-and in particular Brevard's Barrier Island Reef-these baby sea turtles would have to swim almost 30 miles to reach the continental shelf near the gulf stream.