NPCA's Marine Protection Program: Florida Bay

Florida Bay, an estuary located at the southern tip of Everglades National Park, is a unique 500,000 acre water wilderness. Florida Bay’s diverse and complex series of shallow basins surrounded by mangroves and dominated by seagrass meadows create vital habitats for a variety of wildlife, including the West Indian manatee, roseate spoonbill, and sawfish.

Florida Bay’s mangrove islands provide nesting areas for migrating birds while the bay’s shallow basins are critical habitat for juvenile fish. These basins, also known as “flats,” have a depth in some areas of only a few inches and function as feeding grounds for economically important game fish such as snook, bonefish, and tarpon.

Florida Bay’s sensitive habitats play an important role in Florida’s economy, with the total annual economic value of fishing estimated at $10 billion, much of which is driven by fisheries in the bay.

Threats to Florida Bay

Florida Bay is a world-class destination for recreational anglers. Park waters support habitats and nurseries for wildlife like spiny lobster and pink shrimp, which form the foundation of commercial fishing in the waters bordering Florida Bay. The bay’s clear waters and renowned fishing attract an increasing number of boaters every year. With this increase in popularity comes an increase in damage to the bay’s natural resources.

Navigating Florida Bay is complicated and requires great care. A growing number of inexperienced boaters harm the bay’s habitats and wildlife by running aground and scarring seagrass beds.

Addressing the Issues

NPCA’s Sun Coast Region works to help the parks in many ways, including: participating in the formation of parks’ management plans, advocating Congress and elected officials to fully fund our parks, and engaging local communities and partners in the creation and implementation of park conservation projects. Some of the projects include:

  • Eco-Mariner Florida Bay: A free boater education course, supported by more than 27 local organizations, offers instruction in bay navigation, rules and regulations, and protecting wildlife and their habitat. Move one step closer to becoming an Eco-mariner!
  • General Management Plan for Everglades National Park: The park is revising its General Management Plan for the first time since 1979. This important document will determine park management for many years to come. NPCA is taking a lead role to identify management practices that will protect and preserve the parks’ natural and cultural resources and help visitors enjoy a more complete park experience. 
  • Seasonal Ranger Program: NPCA is currently working with Everglades National Park and Miami-Dade College in the creation of a Seasonal Ranger Academy. The academy will be the only one of its kind in the state of Florida and will train candidates to become seasonal park rangers for the National Park Service.
  • Maritime Signs and Channel Markers: NPCA is coordinating efforts to create and install maritime signs in Florida Bay.  These signs will help boaters better navigate the bay’s shallow waters and will serve to assist the park in better protecting the bay. NPCA is also working with the park to study channel markers. This study will help the park determine if proper channel marking improves navigation, reduces degradation to the bay bottom, and improves wildlife protection. (photo of installation of Piling for marker; we may want to hold back on placing this on the web since there has been some recent controversy)
  • Florida Bay Infomation Packets: NPCA works closely with Everglades National Park in the distribution of waterproof information packets to users of Florida Bay. These packets contain critical information, including fishing regulations, the Florida Bay Map & Guide, and information on catch-and-release techniques.
  • Scientific Research and Action Reports: NPCA’s Center for the State of the Parks studied Florida Bay and published the Florida Bay Field Report, a resource assessment of this unique portion of Everglades National Park
  • NPCA also helped the park undertake a Boater Use Study and a Seagrass Study. These reports help the park, the public, and decisionmakers better understand how to best protect the park’s resources and manage Florida Bay.

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