Page Banner

St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve

Scroll for More Quick Links

St. Joseph Bay is a large body of water mostly enclosed by St. Joseph Peninsula. The St. Joseph Peninsula is 17 miles long and has an average width of 1,000 feet. It is formed from the Cape San Blas shoals and the historical migration of the Apalachicola River. The cape and the spit sediments are quartz sands originally supplied by the Apalachicola River. Waves and other shore zone processes have put the beaches in a constant state of change over the last hundred years.

  • St. Joseph Bay is host to one of the richest and most abundant concentrations of marine grasses along the North Florida coast. Five different species of seagrasses occur within these vast meadows that cover approximately one-sixth of the bay bottom.

  • St. Joseph Bay has a healthy population of bay scallops and is a popular destination during scalloping season.

  • The St. Joseph Peninsula is a major forage area for migratory birds.

  • Sport and shellfishing are the most active forms of tourism throughout the year.

St. Joseph Bay is located in Gulf County along Highway 98 near the community of Port St. Joe, approximately 35 miles southeast of Panama City and 100 miles southwest of Tallahassee. St. Joseph Bay is bound in the eastern shoreline by the city of Port St. Joe and the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve and on the west by the St. Joseph Peninsula. The bay is approximately 15 miles long and 6 miles at its widest part and opens north to the Gulf of Mexico.

The aquatic preserve encompasses 55,000 acres of state-owned sovereign submerged lands below the mean high water line. Uplands and human-made canals are excluded from the preserve. Other exclusions include privately owned submerged lands along the eastern shore, private in-holdings that occur along the southern and Western shore, the area of the bay north of the Port St. Joe navigation channel and the immediate area of the channel.

Resource Management

Resource management is physically done on the resources for which the preserve has direct management responsibility, and by influencing the activities of others within and adjacent to the area and to its watershed.
Current issues facing the St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve include Water Quality and Seagrass Protection.

Education and Outreach

The Education and Outreach Management Program is an essential tool to increase public awareness and promote informed stewardship by local communities. Through this program, the preserve has created and distributed educational materials, installed kiosks at local boat ramps with information about the seagrass buoy system, and attended local festivals and events. The Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves Inc. is a nonprofit citizen support organization that assists in these efforts. It raises funds, provides volunteer services and promotes environmental awareness.

Ecosystem Science

The St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve monitors water quality, seagrasses and algae. Other key elements of the ecosystem science program include wildlife stranding response and habitat mapping.

Managed Location Contact: 
Jon Brucker
Total Acreage: 
Receives State Funding: 
State Owned: 

Native Americans once inhabited the St. Joseph Peninsula and gathered shellfish from the bay during both the Weeden Island period (200 - 1000 A.D.) and Mississippian culture (1000 - 1500 A.D.).

The French erected Fort Crevecoeur west of Port St. Joe in 1718. The Spanish governor of Florida in Pensacola protested the French incursion into Spanish territory, but rather than let the Spanish take over the fort, the French burned it before fleeing.

Historically called St. Joseph, the present Port St. Joe was founded in 1835. Two railroads connected the city to the Apalachicola River for trade. By 1837, St. Joseph was the largest town in the Territory of Florida with 6,000 residents. In 1838, the town hosted the first Constitutional Convention for Florida and was called the "Constitutional City."

In 1839, a lighthouse was built at the tip of the spit to guide shipping. The town served as a seaport until 1841 when the town was hit by yellow fever from one of the ships. More than 75 percent of the population died of the disease and the rest fled, abandoning the town. In 1843, a hurricane destroyed the abandoned city, and, in 1851, the lighthouse was leveled by another hurricane. The only remnants of old St. Joseph are tombstones in the Old St. Joseph Cemetery.

In the early 20th century, Port St. Joe was founded about 2 miles north of old St. Joseph. The town's revival was directly tied to the arrival of the Apalachicola Northern Railroad in 1909. This allowed the development of deep-water ports in the bay as well as a lumbering industry. The train also brought Sunday day-trippers to the bay for swimming, picnicking, crabbing, scalloping, fishing and other recreational activities. In 1925, Gulf County was created and Port St. Joe serves as the county seat.

The U.S. Army used the peninsula for training during World War II. From 1962 to 1963, the U.S. Army Reserve took over the remaining military lands for training exercises. As a result of local interest, the site was dedicated as the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in 1967.

On Oct. 21, 1969, the Governor and Cabinet adopted by resolution 18 water bodies to become aquatic preserves, including St. Joseph Bay.

Over the years, Gulf County has experienced slow growth accompanied by a minimal tourism base. The county's economy was dominated by the paper mill until it was closed in 1998. Since then, the economy has shifted from paper production-related industry to tourism, resulting in a steady increase in the number of tourists. This has also led to a demand for homes. Coastal development is primarily related to beach vacation homes that are used as rental property.

Public Access: 

The St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve is one of the least populated coastal areas in the state. Residents and visitors have an excellent opportunity to experience nature. T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a particularly popular destination because of its white sand and lack of development. Gulf County has many parks for outdoor recreation and leisure opportunities.

Recreational activities throughout the area include fishing, diving, snorkeling, scalloping, sunbathing, birding and boating. Kayakers can take advantage of the kayak and canoe launch at Richardson's Hammock on Cape San Blas Road. Sportfishing and scalloping are the most active forms of tourism in St. Joseph Bay. Popular species of sportfish include redfish, trout, shark, mullet, flounder and tarpon.


St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve relies on volunteer support for many of its management and education activities, such as water quality monitoring and beach lighting education.

Most volunteer opportunities are coordinated through the Friends of the St. Joseph Bay Preserves Inc., a nonprofit citizen support organization. The friends group raises funds, provides volunteer services and promotes environmental awareness. One of the best ways to help is by volunteering. Opportunities are available for a wide variety of interests and expertise.
For more information, please visit The Friends of St. Joseph Bay Preserves.

Archaeological Resources: 

The Division of Historical Resources, Department of State, has identified nine archaeological sites in the immediate coastal area of St. Joseph Bay. These sites include four prehistoric shell middens and three old settlement sites. Confederate Saltworks is a Civil War era site on Cape San Blas, where bricks and some foundation remain after the buildings were destroyed in 1862. The Cape San Blas Lighthouse is another site, also found along the cape. 

Wildlife Habitat Description: 

The Florida Panhandle is one of the nation's six biological hotspots that has many rare species found only in small areas. St. Joseph Bay is not influenced by the inflow of freshwater, and it tends to be clearer with sandier sediments. The bay is an ideal habitat for seagrass. Productivity in the region can be attributed to the salt marsh and seagrasses that serve as nursery and foraging grounds for commercial and recreational fish and invertebrates, sea turtles, scallops and birds.

Algal Bed - Large populations of non-drift macro or micro algae.

Composite Substrate - Consist of a combination of natural communities such as beds of algae and seagrasses.

Mollusk Reef - Expansive concentrations of sessile mollusks occurring in intertidal and subtidal zones to a depth of 40 feet.

Octocoral Bed - Non-sessile benthic and pelagic invertebrates and vertebrates (e.g., sponges, mollusks, tube worms, burrowing shrimp, crabs, isopods, amphipods, sand dollars and fishes) are associated with octocoral beds.

Seagrass Bed - Expansive stands of vascular plants that occur in subtidal (rarely intertidal) zones, in clear, coastal waters where wave energy is moderate.

Sponge Bed - Dense populations of sessile invertebrates of the phylum Porifera, Class Demospongiae.

Tidal Marsh - Expanses of grasses, rushes and sedges along coastlines of low wave energy and river mouths.

Unconsolidated Substrate - Expansive, relatively open areas of subtidal, intertidal and supratidal zones that lack dense populations of sessile plant and animal species.

Mudflats - Categorized as an unconsolidated substrate. Mudflats are created by sediment that is deposited by the changing tides and Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat-Wildlife Type: 
Aquatic Preserves
Last Modified:
October 3, 2023 - 9:59am

Some content on this site is saved in an alternative format. The following icons link to free Reader/Viewer software:
PDF: | Word: | Excel: