Big Pine Key Aquatic Habitat Hydrologic Restoration

Big Pine Key, Florida

Endorsed by ACFHP in FY2020.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with numerous local and NGO partners, will be restoring 108 acres of freshwater slough, 28 acres of mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) forest, and 16 acres of saltmarsh to provide habitat for threatened and endangered fish and wildlife species on Big Pine Key, in the Florida Keys National Key Deer Refuge. The historic freshwater slough that ran through the center of the project site has been partitioned and inadvertently dammed by unpaved roads from abandoned development projects. These roads block drainage of seawater deposited by storms or extreme tidal events in what was once a flowing, hydrologically connected system. Evaporation of these ponded areas leaves behind salts that produce hypersaline conditions, stressing vegetation and fish communities in the system.

By installing four water control structures and removing roads, direct flow of freshwater into and out the system will once again create the freshwater and estuarine conditions needed for freshwater and saltwater marshes, as well as mangroves to thrive. Additionally, the saline flushing will benefit the underground freshwater lens by maintaining hydrostatic pressure that limits saltwater intrusion. The project site will also be more resilient to storm events, as the faster flushing of saltwater from the system will allow for quicker habitat and wildlife recovery when they are experiencing heightened vulnerability. Many species, including mangrove gambusia (Gambusia rhizophorae) and mangrove rivulus (Rivulus marmoratus), both of which are FWC Species of Special Concern, will benefit from these restoration efforts.


Text provided by FL FWC.