The AOML South Florida Program (SFP) and associated efforts have yielded answers to important questions regarding the maintenance and welfare of the south Florida coastal marine ecosystem and have resulted in significant findings supporting the needs of resource managers...
Over the years, the AOML SFP and its affiliated field operations, have enabled scientists and resource managers to keep a watchful eye on the sensitive marine habitats found in the region and have served as a sentinel during periods when the ecosystem has been subjected to extreme events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms (HAB), and potential oil spill contaminants. Additionally, the AOML SFP has produced a comprehensive, long-term baseline for regional circulation, salinity, and water quality for the ecosystem.
The AOML SFP integrates data from environmentally and economically important areas, including three national parks (Biscayne, Everglades, and the Dry Tortugas) as well as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). Economic activity associated with the FKNMS alone was worth $6 billion and 71,000 jobs in 2001.
Sustained measurements that have been supported by the AOML SFP include synoptic interdisciplinary bay-wide and regional shipboard surveys, a moored oceanographic instrument array, and Lagrangian surface drifter deployments.
The AOML SFP was originally designed to fulfill NOAA's responsibility to South Florida Ecosystem Restoration and the ongoing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).
The capabilities developed as a result of the AOML SFP have enabled NOAA to respond quickly to extreme events, which have originated both locally (e.g. "black-water", HABs) and remotely (e.g. tropical cyclones, oil spills), by adapting/modifying routine sampling via ships and small boats.
As NOAA moves forward in the development of a new coordinated long-term science plan for the Gulf of Mexico, it will be important to incorporate regional coastal components such as the AOML SFP into the larger mosaic. The development of baseline metrics for the larger region will have to rely heavily on data already assembled from the few existing observational programs operating throughout the Gulf. Management and maintenance of long-term environmental records such as the AOML SFP data time-series is critical. These data are required to determine the natural system variability (spatially and temporally), and are a precursor to quantifying and assessing the impacts of more intermittent, extreme events which can affect the region, be they natural (e.g. hurricanes, HABs) or man-made (e.g. oil spills).