Biscayne National Park, located just south of Miami, protects several biologically diverse ecosystems, including the shallow seagrass beds of Biscayne Bay, the northernmost true Florida Key (Elliott Key), a vast tangle of mangrove shoreline, and the tip of the Florida Reef, one of the world's largest coral reefs. The park also contains the second-largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States after Central Park.
There are no other national parks found within South Florida, but many of the region's most famous beaches are included within larger national marine sanctuaries. These include Big Pine Island Marine Sanctuary, which covers an area of more than 100 square miles off the coast of southern Broward County; Bahia Honda Keyes, a 60,000-acre ocean preserve that extends along much of the Gulf Coast from Marco Island to Jupiter Inlet; and Cape Florida State Park, a 54,000-acre expanse of land and water that borders the Atlantic Ocean near Fort Pierce.
The entire coastline from Mexico to Canada is considered part of the U.S. National Seashore system. Learn more about Biscayne National Park.
Miami's Key Biscayne National Park Homestead and Biscayne, Florida Biscayne safeguards a rare blend of azure seas, emerald islands, and fish-bejeweled coral reefs, only minutes from downtown Miami.
The island was originally part of a large tract of land that was owned by an influential Cuban family when it was acquired by the federal government for use as a military base during the Cold War. The family retained title to the land, but since then, many developments have been built on it. Today, the park includes a visitor center with small museum, trails for hiking and biking, a boat launch, and picnic areas.
How did Key Biscayne become a national park? In 1983, Congress passed legislation designating Key Biscayne a national monument, but it wasn't until years later that the park officially became part of the National Park System. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law on February 22, 2000.
Key Biscayne is one of two dozen national monuments that make up the National Mall, along with Washington D.C.'s National Mall.
Coral reefs, Biscayne Bay, coastal wetlands, Everglades marshes, hardwood hammocks, and internationally endangered pine forests are so distinctive that Miami-Dade County has two national parks, a National Marine Sanctuary, Florida aquatic preserves, and water conservation zones. This makes Miami the only city in America with its own federal reserve system.
This unique ecosystem is threatened by development. Nearly 70% of Miami-Dade County is used for housing, most of it built over the past 20 years. The increased population and traffic have been aggravating coral reef problems for years. Hardwood hammocks are also being destroyed by fire ant colonies that move into abandoned campsites or building sites looking for food. The growing number of invasive species is also threatening the ecosystem - Africanized honey bees were introduced into South Florida in 1995. They have been responsible for killing off almost all other bee species because they don't share their resources very evenly. The Africanized bees have also driven out native pollinators such as bumblebees and butterflies that are important to plant reproduction.
Miami-Dade County has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the country. There is an effort under way to encourage people to use public transportation, reduce vehicle trips, and use energy efficient cars. The county has also taken action to clean up its air by requiring local governments to limit emissions from vehicles driving on county roads.