Florida has been a maritime state from its beginning days. Even the Seminole Indians, who were the nation’s first cowboys, depended on sailing vessels to export their beef products to Cuba. Because of the important commerce they carried out it was imperative to protect the ships. Florida's coastline was extremely dangerous resulting in the wrecking of many ships and the loss of hundreds of lives. The Florida coast does not look treacherous, but there are coral reefs hidden under water just off shore. The low lying terrain devoid of cliffs or mountains can be seen only a short distance at sea. Consequently the ships could crash upon the reefs before they could see the land. Also, the northward flowing Gulf Stream is just a few miles off shore. The southbound ships had to stay shoreward of the Stream in order to make headway, causing the ships to travel dangerously close to shore.
To give the ships a visual reference a series of lighthouses were constructed along the length of Florida’s coast and even on the reefs themselves. Other lighthouses, such as Boca Grande, were built in some of the harbors to guide the ships safely into port. At one time there were about 65 lighthouses off Florida, but the elements, time and neglect have resulted in the loss of many of them. As a result only thirty remain, including one that is now a private residence. Today with GPS and other navigational aids the role of the lighthouse has been diminished, in fact some consider them to be obsolete. However, many of the small boats that can’t afford the electronics still depend on them. Also, those with electronic navigation realize that electronics can fail and it is assuring to see that dependable light. With the countless ships and lives that were saved by these lighthouses it is only right that we now protect and preserve them. It is imperative that they be preserved as a part of our maritime heritage.
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