Thanks to the efforts of local and state politicians, business groups and interested individuals, the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve was created last year, providing protection for more than 700 square miles of coastal habitat. Located between Yankeetown and Anclote, the area has been added to the 41 existing preserves encompassing approximately 2.2 million acres established under the Florida Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975. It circumvents the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve near Crystal River, and closes the gap between the existing Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve to the north and the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve to the south, thereby extending protection to a 60 mile contiguous stretch of outstanding submerged lands and unspoiled habitat along the Nature Coast for future generations to enjoy.

This area comprises countless acres of fertile salt marsh, mangroves, oyster bars, hard bottom substrates, seagrass meadows and canopied creeks supporting important bird rookeries and nursery areas for a wide variety of marine life and endangered species, including the West Indian manatee. It provides outstanding fishing, paddling, boating and other water related activities so critical to the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. Nearby communities depend on a healthy, unspoiled coastal ecosystem along the Nature Coast to sustain viable economies.

While dredging, filling and other alterations of physical conditions in the preserve will be limited, all lawful traditional public uses such as fishing and boating will be allowed in the preserve. A board of trustees created by the act will oversee restoration and enhancement activities within the preserve and its tributaries in conjunction with the neighboring counties and state Department of Environmental Protection.

On Sept. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m., the DEP will host a virtual meeting to gather public input which will be used in formulating the preserve’s management plan.

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Interested stakeholders can register to attend the virtual meeting at the following link: https://ufl.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwocemtrTsqGdUihO7zwZoln3rrn3l1-aP3.

Gary Rankel

Citrus Hills