Florida Officials Open Virtual Public Hearing on New Aquatic Preserve – The Published Reporter®

Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, along with Big Bend Seagrasses, St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserves, and Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve, together protect the largest contiguous seagrass prairie in the Gulf of Mexico and the largest spring-fed seagrass habitat of the world. File photo: Alex Traveler, Shutter Stock, licensed.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Yesterday, members of the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the management plan for the first new aquatic reserve created in Florida in 32 years.

In 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation to create the Nature Coast Aquatic Reserve, which will protect some 400,000 acres of seagrasses spanning more than 700 square miles throughout Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

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Keith Kolasa, manager of aquatic services and waterways for the Hernando County Department of Public Works, said the goal is to be proactive in protecting many sensitive ecosystems.

“Protecting and preserving a resource that’s in good shape,” Kolasa said, “instead of trying to restore it in a similar way to what we’ve seen in Tampa Bay and to the south, where there’s been a lot of red tide and algae blooms.” .

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection will host two remaining public hearings, a virtual one at 6 p.m. today to present the draft Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve Management Plan to the public for review and comment, and an in-person meeting next Tuesday at Crystal River. .

Details are at floridap.gov.

The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve is the second largest aquatic preserve in Florida. Justin Grubich, science and policy officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said the management plan ensures life can thrive in the area that relies heavily on seagrasses.

“Not just the biological inhabitants, all the sea turtles, the manatees, the fish and the scallops that we like to catch and see,” Grubich said, “but it also helps the coastal communities that depend on those resources for their livelihoods.”

Grubich said the management plan is a crucial component because it sets the roadmap for almost everything that will happen in the reserve, from education to habitat monitoring.

It also identifies priorities for maintaining those ecosystems and balancing them with public use.

Grubich said another critical component is data collection for managing research and learning about species beyond currently known areas.

Support for this report was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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