Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1061, expanding Florida’s new aquatic preserve about 800 square miles along the Gulf Coast, its first new aquatic preserve in over 30 years.
This bill creates the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve, which will protect approximately 400,000 acres of aquatic habitat stretching from Pinellas County to Big Bend, covering Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus Counties.
The Florida Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975 ensures no utility infrastructure or pollution is allowed in protected areas. This preserve will border several existing ones. The Gulf’s seagrass meadows help to stabilize the sea floor, filter pollution and serve as a nursery for fish species.
“It is the 42nd system that it essentially designed to maintain these areas and natural conditions while still allowing for public access for things like boating, fishing and scalloping,” said Holly Binns, who directs efforts by national nonprofit PEW Charitable Trusts to protect ocean life.
“After sort of a year of conversations and what kind of protections would truly help preserve this area for generations to come, this proposal came together probably in August and it moved quickly from there,” Binns explained, noting that her organization has been working on this project for quite some time.
“Seagrass is a really important coastal habitat,” she said. “It is the nurturing for probably 70 percent of the fish that fishermen like to target.”
Steve Lamb, co-founder and vice president of the nonprofit Save Crystal River, said he was expecting the governor to sign House Bill 1061 into law because everyone supported the plan.
“The local guides, the guide association was 100% for this,” he said, “because they know that it will ensure long-term viability for the fish and then hence, their job, their livelihood.”