The Florida Maritime Heritage Trail 
Coastal CommunitiesCoastal EnvironmentsCoastal FortsLighthousesHistoric PortsHistoric Shipwrecks
Navarre Beach Dunes

Navarre Beach Dunes.
Photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA.

    With more than 1000 miles of coastline, Florida has a wonderful diversity of coastal and maritime environments. The peninsula is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and the zone where land and water meet has been the most important human ecosystem for thousands of years. Here people gain access to the reefs, shoals, beaches, bays, lagoons, tidal creeks, marshes, rivers and uplands, and the vast array of resources they contain. From the coast ships have access to the interior through inlets and rivers, as well as to the rest of the world. Along Florida's coast the elements of the Maritime Heritage Trail are spread out in distinctive patterns. By exploring coastal environments, it is possible to see how these parts fit together, historically and in modern times.


Florida Manatee.
Photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA.

    For Florida's first people, the Native American tribes who have lived here more than 12,000 years, as for more recent European explorers and colonists, and for us today, the key parts of the coastline are the inlets, bays, estuaries and mouths of rivers. Here are opportunities for transportation, commerce, security, shelter, recreation, and settlement. Before the modern highway system, Florida relied on vessels from dugout canoes to steamships to move people and goods, and to develop the resources of the interior like timber, minerals, and crops. The access to the interior provided at inlets and rivers, the only openings along the vast stretches of sandy beach, salt marsh and mangrove, were strategically critical. Forts were established to protect these points and lighthouses were built to show the way and warn against hazards. Along the fringing reefs of south Florida, the only coral reefs in the continental US, hundreds of shipwrecks attest to the dangers of navigation.


Photo courtesy of VISIT FLORIDA.

    The coast has always been and will always be attractive to people. It is a fragile and dynamic environment, changing constantly with hurricanes, erosion, urban development, and other natural and human factors. Follow the Maritime Heritage Trail and explore how people, land, and water are interdependent in Florida. Watch for patterns of environment and settlement to see how they have changed over time and think about what they will be like in the future.

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Florida Coastal Management Program This web page was funded in part by the Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Coastal Management Program, pursuant to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Award No. NA97OZ0158. The views expressed in herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the State of Florida, NOAA, or any of its subagencies.
National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration