Skip to Content
FIU team ups with world-renowned marine conservationist to spotlight South Florida’s coastal ecosystems
Biscayne Bay, Ten Thousand Islands, Florida Keys

FIU team ups with world-renowned marine conservationist to spotlight South Florida’s coastal ecosystems

June 3, 2024 at 9:41am

Nominated by FIU scientists, the coastal area around South Florida that encompasses Biscayne Bay, the Florida Keys and Ten Thousand Islands has been designated a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, an organization founded by world-renowned marine conservationist Sylvia Earle. 

Hope Spots are special places, scientifically identified by Earle, and her team, as critical to the health of oceans. The new South Florida Hope Spot was championed by three FIU scientists with a long history of conservation work: Mireya Mayor, executive director of strategic projects, Mike Heithaus, marine ecologist and executive dean of the FIU College of Arts, Sciences & Education, and Heather Bracken-Grissom, marine scientist and assistant director of the Coastlines and Oceans Division in FIU’s Institute of Environment.

“We have so many unique and amazing ocean habitats surrounding us in South Florida, but they are facing tremendous challenges,” Heithaus said. “At FIU, we are committed to making a positive impact by sharing our science and offering hope to the world. This Hope Spot designation helps shine a light on the tremendous work that our scientists and others are doing along with the community and government agencies to keep our oceans healthy.”

FIU scientists are providing essential data to water and land managers for the Florida Keys and Caribbean to mitigate the many threats these ecosystems face. They monitor water quality along with plant and animal species along coastlines, coral reefs and on islands throughout the region to help develop solutions for more sustainable management of these resources. This includes one of the largest seagrass meadows in the world, where FIU scientists have been working for nearly three decades. Today, FIU is a research partner with Rookery Bay Research Reserve and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which is home to FIU Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory. 

One of FIU’s campuses is located along Biscayne Bay and for decades, FIU has led research on the health of the bay. In addition to the science, FIU researchers focus on communicating with local communities to educate on the role they play in the health of the bay as well as the need for improved protections at the local and state levels. Recently, the university proposed a new initiative for a comprehensive monitoring network for the bay to identify potential problems before they become crises. The researchers have been actively pursuing funding opportunities to advance this effort.

“This Hope Spot combines the mangroves, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and the deep waters beyond all together, making this an amazing place highly regarded by people all over the world,” Earle said.

The new Hope Spot bridges the previously designated Hope Spots of Florida Gulf Coast and Coastal Southeast Florida, highlighting hundreds of miles of coastline between Martin County on the east and Apalachicola Bay on Florida’s west coast.

“Arguably one of the greatest strengths for the Florida Keys is the passion people feel towards its unique environment. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the keys to see coral reefs that exist nowhere else in the continental United States yet are visibly deteriorating every year,” Mayor said. “This Hope Spot designation will be invaluable to people throughout the world, who yearn to see that recovery is possible and pristine marine habitats can flourish in the future.”