One hundred thousand years ago the Florida Keys were "under construction." The builders were billions of coral animals, each not much larger than a period on this page. Together these animals constructed a 150-mile-long chain of underwater coral reefs. When these reefs later emerged from the sea, they became the many islands of the Florida Keys. If you look closely, you can see fossil coral rock on the islands of Biscayne.
Dive into the undersea realm of the coral reefs and you will discover a feast for the eyes. It is a living kaleidoscope of gaudy colors, bold patterns, intricate designs, and peculiar shapes. Alien, yet inviting, the life of the reefs excites and mystifies snorkelers and scientists alike.
The Reef Builders
Among the most puzzling creatures are the corals. Early biologists suspected they were plants. But each coral - each brain, finger, or staghorn coral - is actually a colony of thousands of tiny, soft-bodied animals. These animals, called polyps, are relatives of the sea anenome and jellyfish. Rarely seen in the day, the polyps emerge from their hard, stony skeletons at night. It is then that they feed, catching drifting plankton in their outstretched tentacles.
These primitive, unassuming animals are the mighty master builders of the reefs. The creation of one reef requires the team efforts of billions of individuals. Each extracts building material - calcium - from the sea and uses it to make itself a protective tube-shaped skeleton. Together, hundreds of these skeletons make a coral. Many corals, growing side by side and one on top of the other, form a reef.
Corals are very particular about where they build reefs. Like the offshore seas of Biscayne, the water must be just the right temperature (no lower than 63° F), just the right depth (no deeper than 200 feet), and be clean and well-lit. Such conditions exist all along the Florida Keys in and south of Biscayne and in the Caribbean, as well as in some other tropical oceans.
An Undersea Metropolis
The reefs are the cities of the sea. In and around them lives a huge and diverse population of fish and other marine creatures. Every hole, every crack is a home for something. Some inhabitants, like the Christmas tree worm, even live anchored to the coral. And there is food to satisfy all tastes. Corals are eaten by flamingo tongues, which are snail-like mollusks, and fish. Fish are food for other fish, and quite often, for seafood gourmets.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
Science plays an integral role in the ability of the National Park Service to effectively preserve its resources — a charge of the National Park Service since its creation in 1916. Protection of natural and cultural resources for the public and their progeny requires active and informed management strategies. A lack of information about park flora, fauna, ecosystems, and their interrelationships can have devastating consequences considering resource preservation and our future generations. A rigorous increase in nonnative species, pollutant loading, and incompatible uses of resources in and around parks are just a few of the dynamic issues that resource managers will have to contend with in the 21st century.
Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
National parks provide more than a place for recreation and relaxation. They are places where visitors can find the "reality" of lessons learned elsewhere. Biscayne National Park protects four distinct but interrelated natural systems in addition to cultural resources spanning 2,000 years (and maybe as many as 10,000 years). This provides great opportunity for education here.
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.