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Human Interaction

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Garbage on the beach.

In some cases, our impact on the ocean has been harmful, from pollution, overfishing, and water recreation such as motor boating, to coastal development and depositing trash. In other cases, human interaction has been positive, both accidentally, as with shipwrecks that create artificial reefs, and consciously, through cleanup and protection efforts. The coral reef tracts of Palm Beach County are some of the last healthy systems in Florida.

The ocean is widely fished for recreational and commercial purposes. While an important part of our local food supply comes from the ocean, it is not an inexhaustible resource. The fish we eat are also part of an ecosystem and must be harvested in regulated numbers so as not to disturb the balance of underwater life. Even if fish are returned to the water after being caught, many are too injured or exhausted to survive.

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An aerial of Lake Worth looking southeast.

As big as the ocean world is, it can be disturbed by small pieces of trash, much of which originates as litter on our city streets. When it rains, trash flows into drains that lead to the Lake Worth Lagoon and other waterways. As the water continues out of the inlets and into the ocean, it carries the litter along with it. Pollution is a serious danger to marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, and reef ecosystems. Canals, creeks, and rivers carry pollution from roads, lawns, and agriculture to estuaries, lagoons, and the ocean. Then wind often blows it back onshore. Fishing line, nets, plastic bags, and plastic rings from soda cans can strangle marine animals, such as turtles and pelicans. Trash can also be deadly to animals that mistake it for food but are unable to digest it.

To the south, John Pennecamp State Park in Monroe County suffers from a condition where the algae die and the coral becomes white before it dies. To the north and west, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries have been nearly destroyed by polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. In the Florida Panhandle, pollution from paper mills threatens oyster beds and Gulf of Mexico sea grass beds and fisheries.

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An aerial looking east with South Palm Beach
and Hypoluxo Island in the foreground, May 1974.

Coastal development continuously disrupts the natural storm protection provided by the beach-dune system, and is one of the causes of gradual erosion along much of the county’s 45-mile coastline. Federal, state, county, and municipal governments work against this trend through the Shoreline Protection Plan, restoring dunes and beaches and reducing future damage.

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