Friends of the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves
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Friends of Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves, Inc.
Celebrating 50 Years
50 years ago, we went to the moon! That same year, and much closer to home, the Florida Legislature established the Boca Ciega Bay Aquatic Preserve and launched our community into a new generation of environmental advocacy.

Sponsored by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, the Boca Ciega Bay 50th Anniversary Celebration was attended by State Officials, County Commissioners, Mayors, Municipal Elected Officials, County and City Staff. This citizen-driven and science-based program featured educational kiosks, interactive activities, a virtual reality (VR) headset experience, and special prizes. The event was held at St Petersburg College Seminole Campus and spearheaded by Friends’ life member Terry Fortner.

The honorable Roger H. Wilson was recognized for his life-long service and commitment to Tampa Bay’s natural resources. Roger served in the Florida State of House Representatives from 1968-1976, where he authored the 1969 Bill that established Boca Ciega Bay Aquatic Preserve and the 1972 Bill that established Pinellas County as an Aquatic Preserve. Due in large part to Roger’s service, there are now 42 aquatic preserves in Florida.

About the Preserves

The Boca Ciega Bay and Pinellas County aquatic preserves (referred to collectively as the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserves) were designated in 1968 and 1972, respectively. Boca Ciega Bay was designated as an aquatic preserve to aid in halting the wholesale dredging and filling of the bay that occurred with the finger fill developments of the 1950s. Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve was designated to help prevent the events in Boca Ciega Bay from being repeated elsewhere.

Due to the broad expanse of the aquatic preserves, almost all habitats and levels of impact can be seen. These aquatic preserves include the nearly pristine waters offshore of Palm Harbor as well as the heavily impacted waters of Boca Ciega Bay. There are unspoiled mangrove islands as well as miles of canals bounded by seawalls. These aquatic preserves include the western portion of Tampa Bay (including Safety Harbor and Old Tampa Bay), Clearwater Bay, St. Joseph Sound, oceanic waters westward to the county line, as well as certain fresh waters such as Lake Tarpon and portions of Lake Seminole.

Volunteers and interns play an integral part in the aquatic preserve staff's ability to reach management goals. Individuals and groups (such as Eagle Scouts, corporate groups, student groups and neighborhood associations) are encouraged to help with island restoration projects such as trash removal, non-native plant removal and restoring native plants to these important habitats.

Counties: Pinellas
Location: FL

Contact: Randy Runnels, PhD
Phone: 239-530-1011

Publication References
Pinellas County and Boca Ciega Bay Aquatic Preserves Management Plan - DRAFT

Total Acreage: 350000.00
Managed-Regulated: Managed
Receives State Funding: Yes
State Owned: Yes

Public Access
Despite the heavy urbanization of Pinellas County, these aquatic preserves support a variety of means for people to get back to nature on the water. Sport fishing and boating are done even in the heavily impacted areas, such as Boca Ciega Bay. Canoing, kayaking, swimming and nature observation are popular in other parts of the county. In addition, some spoil islands are used for camping. There are several state parks that help ensure these opportunities will remain available. However, Anclote Key Preserve State Park, Caladesi Island State Park and Egmont Key State Park are accessible only by private boat or ferry. Segment 8 of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail passes through Pinellas County.

Archaeological Resources

Wildlife Habitat Description
The preserves include nearshore habitats along sandy beaches and mangrove-dominated shorelines. Submerged habitats include oyster bars, seagrass beds, coral communities and springfed caves. Abundant islands, including those formed from dredge spoil material, are also part of the preserve. Approximately one-third of Florida's coral species can be found in the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve.

Habitat-Wildlife Type5
Aquatic Preserves
Coral Reef
Florida's Aquatic Preserves

Much of Florida's distinctive character lies in the beauty of its coastline. The best of our coastal landscapes have been set aside for protection as aquatic preserves. Florida's natural beauty always has been a major attraction for both tourists and residents. Ironically, the very features that draw people to Florida are potentially endangered by the increased population pressures. Aquatic preserves protect Florida's living waters to ensure they will always be home for bird rookeries and fish nurseries, freshwater springs and salt marshes, and seagrass meadows and mangrove forests.

These aquatic preserves  — dotted up and down Florida's coastline  — offer a window into the state's natural and cultural heritage. In 1975, with growing appreciation for their environmental diversity and alluring beauty, Florida enacted the Aquatic Preserve Act. This ensures the continuation of aquatic preserves' natural conditions — "their aesthetic, biological and scientific values may endure for the enjoyment of future generations."

Today, Florida has 41 aquatic preserves, encompassing about 2.2 million acres. All but four of these submerged lands of exceptional beauty are located along Florida's 8,400 miles of coastline, in the shallow waters of marshes and estuaries. The other four are located inland, near springs and rivers. All of these waters are ours to enjoy and protect.

Wildlife Habitat
These pristine waters act as critical nurseries for fish and other aquatic life. This is where our fishing industry begins. Bottlenose dolphins break the water's surface and manatees feed on seagrasses. Wading and shore birds — including pelicans, ospreys, and roseate spoonbills — thrive in the shallow waters.

About two-thirds of Floridians live in counties that border an aquatic preserve. Aquatic preserves are vital to Florida's quality of life. Residents and visitors enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and paddling through the preserves, often unaware the waters are being protected and preserved.

Cultural Heritage
Numerous archaeological sites found along and within the aquatic preserves attest to early human habitation. Like many people today, early explorers found them attractive places to live. Shell mounds, which are heaps of the discarded remains from early meals, bear the evidence of early human communities and add to their cultural and historical value.

Th Aquatic Preserves' natural heritage is entrusted to us to explore, experience and protect  for future generations.