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 leaving behind a lattice work of scars along the fragile seagrass beds. Some of these prop scars are miles long and crisscross across vast seagrass meadows. These unsightly scars can take more than a decade to recover, if ever.
Addressing the Issues
NPCA’s Sun Coast Regional Office works to help address issues to Florida Bay in many ways that include engaging both Everglades National Park staff and local stakeholders to identify problems and their solutions. We gather scientists, recreational anglers, professional fishing guides, park law enforcement, and others to discuss and inform the formation of park management plans. We advocate for park funding with members of Congress and other elected officials. And we engage citizens to experience, enjoy and protect Florida Bay for current and future generations.
One of the most effective ways NPCA has worked to protect Florida Bay is through the creation of its Florida Bay Resource Protection Program---a partnership created by NPCA, the South Florida Management Trust, diverse stakeholders and Everglades National Park to protect Florida Bay through education, enhanced law enforcement and science. This partnership, which evolved to become the Florida Bay Stewardship Fund and Steering Committee, has invested more than $1 million to pilot and establish both a boater education program and a pole-troll zone for Florida Bay, place more law enforcement rangers on the water, repair and replace damaged channel markers, purchase boats and boat engines for law enforcement, install signs to protect habitat and wildlife, support the completion of an influential study of boating patterns and seagrass bed conditions across Florida Bay, and more.
Some of the highlights of these successes include:
- Eco-Mariner, NPCA’s pilot boater education program, serving as model for a park-wide boater education program mandated in the park’s upcoming General Management Plan
- Establishment of a Pole-Troll Zone in the Snake Bight area of Florida Bay
- Continued productive dialogue between diverse stakeholders of the Bay and the National Park Service
- Hiring of seasonal law enforcement rangers to patrol the waters of Florida Bay
- Repair and replacement of damaged channel markers
- Completion of a study on boater use and prop-scar patterns in Florida Bay
- Learn more about NPCA's work protecting coral and coral reefs in the Sun Coast region
- Learn more about NPCA's Sun Coast Regional Office
- Learn more about NPCA's Great Waters program
- Learn more about NPCA's restoration efforts in Everglades National Park