Welcome to the Strait of Florida Website
The Strait of Florida is a reversed L-shaped trough that separates the Florida Peninsula from the Bahama Platform and Cuba. Its southern arm opens westward into the Gulf of Mexico, while its northern arm opens into the Atlantic Ocean at the northern end of the Bahama Platform. This small channel on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean serves as both conduit and barrier, and so forms an important biodiversity hotspot.
The Strait's primary hydrographic feature, the Florida Current, creates the conduit, channeling back to the North Atlantic much of the water volume lost to the Southern Hemisphere via the deep thermohaline conveyor. Though only a short segment of the North Atlantic Gyre, its enormous mass transport, a mean of 30 Sverdrups (Sv), funneled through such a narrow channel, makes it the spigot of the Gulf Stream. A Sverdrup is a measure of volume transport equal to 1 million cubic meters (of water) per second. Mariners have used this powerful current for centuries to carry ships northward from the trade wind belt and Spanish Main to the prevailing westerlies for the return trip to Europe. Biologically, the one-way flow creates a continuous enough environment so that many bottom-dwelling organisms have ranges extending from northern South America to southern Florida.
By contrast, the combination of water mass properties within the Strait and the features of its margins create important biological barriers. The geostrophic flow of western boundary currents such as the Florida Current-Gulf Stream system tilts isotherms across the channel so steeply that similar depths on opposite sides experience substantially different temperatures. A mean temperature of 10°C lies in 200 m on the Florida side of the northern Strait but in almost 600 m on the Bahama side. However, different local flow regimes, turbidity, substrates and seasonal fluctuations create different habitats despite similar temperatures.
In addition, the two arms of the Strait represent geologically different troughs: the northern lies within the Florida-Bahama carbonate platform, while the faulted southern arm forms the boundary between the platform and the tectonic Greater Antillean island arc. Also, although the Florida and Bahama platforms share a common origin, their subsequent histories have produced very different modern environments. As a result, the Strait represents an important biogeographic boundary where different faunas, especially those of deeper waters (≥200 m), meet to contribute to the greatest known species richness in the western central (and perhaps entire) Atlantic Ocean; the Strait also exhibits the greatest number of endemic marine fishes in the region.
This website brings together current knowledge about the deep Strait of Florida, focusing on the biology, geology and physical aspects of its environments beyond the shelf margins, beginning at a depth of about 100 meters and continuing downward. We have divided the Strait into seven major habitat regions chiefly because we know something about how each of them differs from the others. Gaps remain, of course, and the habitats and their faunas intergrade. Click on any habitat area to find out more about each one.