The Florida Gulf Coast’s 770 miles of coast, 5,000 miles of tidal shoreline, and 7 million acres of tidally submerged lands stretch from temperate Pensacola to tropical Key West. The state’s barrier islands, estuaries, beaches, seagrass meadows, wetlands and mangrove forests are world-renowned. The Florida coast also incorporates many rare habitats – lakes within coastal dunes, the Everglades’ River of Grass and the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.
With its length and diversity, the Florida coast is a major ecological driver for the Gulf of Mexico as a whole. The state’s many coastal estuaries provide food, shelter, and important nurseries for a wide range of fish, birds and other marine life.
Florida’s long coastline also fuels the state’s economic engine. Its white sandy beaches are consistently ranked among the best in the nation, and millions of people come to Florida each year to fish, dive, swim, and view wildlife. Florida has more world-record fish catches than anywhere else in the world and it leads all states in economic return for its marine recreational fisheries. Similarly, its commercial fishery is the second-largest in the nation. Nearly 300,000 people work in the tourism industry on Florida’s Gulf Coast alone.
Although the state’s coastline is diverse and extensive, there are common problems across the coast, particularly the need to improve water quality, rebuild wetlands and oyster reefs and restore more natural timing and patterns of river flows to estuaries. Watersheds across the state also need to address nutrient pollution, stormwater, and sedimentation, which harm water quality and clarity.
In total, Florida is certain to receive approximately $1.7 billion dollars that can be used for restoration as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. More than a sixth of these funds have already been awarded to projects aimed at improving water quality, restoring oyster reefs and benefiting birds and sea turtle populations, with additional expenditure plans currently underway to dedicate more of the funds. The remaining money will become available over the next decade and a half.
Central Everglades Project
The Central Everglades Project, authorized by Congress in 2016, is a bundle of high-impact project components aimed to improve the delivery of water to the central Everglades ecosystem. It includes elements to store, treat, and convey water south of Lake Okeechobee, and components to remove barriers to the sheetflow of water between the Water Conservation Areas and Everglades National Park. CEP will work synergistically with the EAA Reservoir and the Tamiami Trail Bridging to de-compartmentalize the Everglades and send water south. When completed, CEP will restore the natural sheetflow to 10,000 acres of degraded Everglades’ wetlands and improve the health of Florida Bay.
Fish and Waterfowl Benefits
Florida Bay, known universally among those who love to fish there as “the backcountry,” stretches from the southernmost tip of the mainland, south to the Florida Keys. Hundreds of mangrove islands dot the bay, and are ringed by shallow flats that make a perfect home for snook, redfish, spotted seatrout and lots more.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Land Acquisition
This project provides habitat conservation through land acquisition and permanent conservation easements via expansion of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The project will enhance water quality, improve community resilience, protect coastal marine resources, and provide tremendous benefit to migratory bird species. The targeted tracts include wetland habitats that provide direct benefits to Apalachee Bay, St. Marks River, and the Gulf of Mexico. Two tracts, the Sam Shine tract (8,117 acres) and The Nature Conservancy Tract (7,699 acres) comprise the vast majority of this project. In addition, the 2,228-acre Lower Ochlockonee River Tract would provide protection to the local estuary, and two other easement parcels (totaling approximately 2,100 acres), would greatly aid the St. Marks River. This project will buffer Apalachee Bay, a high salinity, seagrass rich aquatic area which is an important corridor to the low salinity, phytoplankton rich area of nearby Apalachicola Bay.
Fish and Waterfowl Benefits
Apalachee Bay is also renowned as one of the cleanest and most ecologically abundant bays left in Florida. St. Marks NWR provides opportunities for both fresh and saltwater fishing. In addition to many lakes, ponds, creeks and rivers, the refuge has two boat launching sites for access to Apalachicola Bay. In addition, the refuge holds several organized hunts on portions of the refuge, including a special youth hunt.
Pensacola East Bay Living Shorelines & Oyster Reef Restoration
This project will create up to 6.5 miles of living shorelines in the East Bay area of Pensacola Bay. The project will include installation of materials to provide structure suitable for development of oyster reef habitat and will serve as a natural approach to controlling shoreline erosion. The project will apply the most appropriate substrate for oyster larvae to settle and colonize, restoring critical oyster habitat. The deployment of oyster habitat (which serves as a breakwater) and the planting of salt marsh vegetation will protect the shoreline by dampening wave energy (which erodes the shoreline) and stabilizing sediments (which cause turbidity). These improvements will promote the growth of seagrass and increase colonization by oysters.
Fish and Waterfowl Benefits
Living shorelines created by this project will ultimately provide nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish, as well as forage and nesting areas for birds.
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