New plan aims to protect the Gulf of Mexico’s largest seagrass bed
Water quality monitoring and habitat restoration set to expand in some coastal areas of Florida
Florida’s top environmental agency has approved an extensive plan to conserve some waters off the state’s west coast by expanding water quality monitoring, restoring damaged seagrass, and encouraging community groups to work together to address pollution and other problems.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton approved the plan for the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, which Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and the legislature created in 2020. The preserve covers about 700 square miles of coastal habitat along Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties north of Tampa. The area hosts mangrove islands, salt marshes, oysters, sponges, corals, and more than 350,000 acres of seagrass—part of the largest seagrass bed in the Gulf of Mexico.
The area is popular for its summertime scalloping, world-renowned fishing and manatee watching, and other activities that generate more than $600 million annually for local communities and support more than 10,000 jobs and about 500 businesses.
The need for Florida to protect its water quality is growing more urgent in the face of increasing pollution threats. In recent years, red tides and other harmful algae blooms, fueled by nutrient-laden runoff on both coasts, have taken a severe toll on marine life, fishing, and tourism businesses.
The new plan was more than a year in the making and included multiple opportunities for public input and guidance from an advisory committee comprising local business leaders, fishing guides, ecotourism operators, academics, state and county resource managers, and conservation groups.