Florida’s Newest Nature Preserve
By: Kyle Grammatica
Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida
Exciting news: Florida has a new aquatic preserve! The recently created Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve is the first aquatic preserve designated by Florida lawmakers in 32 years, and the 42nd aquatic preserve established in the state overall. The preserve covers about 800 square miles of Gulf of Mexico coastal waters off Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties that include 400,000 acres of seagrass, an essential ocean resource. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve will connect with two existing aquatic preserves to create a contiguous protected area from the Big Bend to Pinellas County.
This region contains crucial habitat for 19 endangered species and is known for manatee sightings, fishing, and scalloping. The seagrass beds are home to manatees, sea turtles, scallops, crabs, shrimp, and a variety of gamefish, including redfish and tarpon. Economically, seagrass-dependent activities generate about $600 million annually for Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties, and provide more than 10,000 jobs at more than 500 businesses. Overall, Florida seagrass beds contribute more than $20 billion annually to the state’s economy by providing habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries, stabilizing sea floors, and filtering pollution.
“The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve is a win for the economy and environment that will safeguard valuable marine resources and support fishing, scalloping, and tourism businesses for generations to come,” said Holly Binns, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ ocean and coastal conservation work in the Southeast.
More About Seagrass
The creation of the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve is a great accomplishment for marine habitat conservation. The seagrass contained in the preserve is incredibly important to maintaining healthy populations of a variety of species, but it has other benefits too! One acre of seagrass can:
- Produce 50,000 liters of oxygen per day.
- Absorb 3,500 miles worth of carbon emitted by an average car each year.
- Support 40,000 fish and 50,000,000 invertebrates.
- Absorb enough nutrients to treat the amount of sewage created by 100 people annually.
- Generate $35,000 in ecological services every year.
Unfortunately, we’re losing seagrass at a rapid rate: globally two football fields are lost every hour. By supporting conservation we can ensure our natural resources, like seagrass, are protected for generations to come. Join our work by donating here.