Florida’s Atlantic coast, especially from Cocoa Beach on south toward the Keys, is known throughout the world for its amazing blue color. Unlike other coastal areas around Florida, the Continental Shelf is rather narrow off Cocoa Beach and points south, meaning the water depth drops off pretty significantly only a few miles offshore.
The Continental Shelf and the slope that drops off a few miles offshore are pretty significant for a variety of reasons.
We invite you to continue reading to learn more about the continental shelf and its significance politically, economically and how it affects offshore fishing charters.
What is the continental shelf?
A continental shelf is defined by the National Geographic Society as “…the edge of a continent that lies under the ocean.” This land mass underneath the water is an extension of the above-water landmass of Florida and Cocoa Beach. Continental shelves are found on coastal regions throughout the world. Only 2 areas – Chile and Sumatra – have no continental shelf because of their particular location near a subduction zone.
The continental shelves for each continent were formed during the last ice age around 18,000 years ago when ocean water flowed over the land mass and formed these shallow water areas.
The shelf extends for a certain distance before it drops off at what’s known as a shelf break. From the shelf break, you enter the continental slope, or the area where the shelf drops into the deep, deep ocean.
Scientists believe that large areas of the continental shelf were above water during the last ice age, especially between North America and Asia where a “land-bridge’ existed between the two continents. Remains of pre-historic land based animals and plants have been found in these zones.
Although it’s underwater, the continental shelf is considered part of a nation’s territory and is the true edge of a continent. There are 7 continents in the world (North & South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and Antarctica).
Some shelves are quite wide – for example, the shelf off Siberia in the Arctic is over 800 miles wide while the shelf off California is only a mile or two. Florida’s continental shelf (Atlantic coast) is around 62 miles wide off St. Augustine but tapers down to just over a mile wide off West Palm Beach.
Not only is the continental shelf rich is sea life as we’ll explain below, they are also significant for the resources like oil and minerals that lie underneath. Over 30% of the oil and 20% of the natural gas produced in the U.S. for example comes from drilling on the continental shelf.
Marine life on the continental shelf and how it supports recreational and commercial fishing…
The continental shelf off Cocoa Beach is a rich mix of plant, fish and other marine species. In fact, while the continental shelves of the world comprise less than 10% of the world’s oceans, they contain all of the ocean’s plants and the majority of its plankton, shrimp and fish.
The reason for this is sunlight – the majority of continental shelves are gentle slopes. Sunlight penetrates these waters and provides essential nutrients for everything from microscopic shrimp to giant clumps of seaweed called kelp. Nutrients for the smallest organisms are deposited into these areas by ocean currents and runoff from rivers.
All of these nutrients support a plethora of plants and algae along the continental shelf. This of course is what attracts a wide variety of fish to the area – everything from Snapper and Trout closer to shore to Mahi Mahi, Amberjack and Swordfish a little farther out.
The edge of the shelf and the break is also a rich area for fishing. The break off Cocoa Beach is a little farther offshore than most charters go, but it is a treasure trove for Sailfish, Cobia, Wahoo and more.
According to researchers from the National Oceanographic Centre in the UK, the reason why fish at the edge of a continental shelf is so plentiful is because of the abundance of chlorophyll that plankton feed on. This in turn makes the plankton much larger and more plentiful, which in turn attracts the big game fish you see on display in a museum or large store.
Capt. Joseph Smith of Fin Factor Charters in Cocoa Beach has extensive offshore fishing experience along the continental shelf and out to the shelf break. We invite you to visit FinFactorCharters.com for more information about Cocoa Beach and offshore fishing charters, or visit Fin Factor’s reservations page to see if your preferred date is available.
Featured image courtesy of “Famartin” via Wikimedia