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Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve

"Alligator Harbor is one of the world's largest feeding grounds for the Kemp's ridley which is the rarest and most endangered of all marine turtles. The area's abundance of blue crabs, jellyfish, shellfish and sea grass provide an important food source for all sea turtles. The unspoiled waters and beaches are valuable breeding and nesting grounds for marine sea turtles. Alligator Harbor, in addition to being a valuable natural resource, is also archaeologically rich with several Miccosukee/Seminole Indian artifacts and burial mounds surrounding the harbor."

 - Bill Wargo, Coordinator, Alligator Point Sea Turtle Patrol

  • Alligator Harbor supports a variety of commercial and recreational species of fish and invertebrates in valuable aquatic habitats including seagrass meadows, salt marshes, oyster bars, and beaches. 
  • It serves as a major forage area for migratory birds, in particular for trans-gulf migrants in the fall and spring. 
  • Clam aquaculture sites were established in 2002 and are producing a very valuable product for Florida's economy. 
  • Migratory species include piping plovers, semipalmated plovers, least terns, peregrine falcons and a variety of hawks. 
  • Local species include American oystercatchers, black skimmers, snowy plovers, royal terns and brown pelicans.

Resource Management
Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve staff have helped identify appropriate locations and depths to place marker buoys warning of shallow seagrass areas in an effort to protect this valuable habitat. Staff were also involved in mapping and monitoring seagrass habitat and are correlating this information with water quality, nutrient and benthic data. Staff established partnerships with the FSU Marine Lab and Gulf Specimen Marine Lab and were collaborating with both facilities to produce an updated species list and identification guide for the central panhandle region.

Education and Outreach
Staff worked closely with Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve to participate in coastal training program workshops, local festivals, distributing local boating guides, developing educational fliers, giving presentations, writing articles for local newspapers and newsletters, and designing educational signage for local kiosks.

Research and Monitoring
Research and monitoring programs conducted through the Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve were developed based on the natural resources of the system and vary based on the issues and priorities that currently face the bay. Projects included seagrass monitoring, water quality monitoring, benthic monitoring and permit reviews.

Counties: 
Franklin
Location: 
Managed Location Contact: 
Jon Brucker
Phone: 
Total Acreage: 
14184.00
Managed-Regulated: 
Managed
Receives State Funding: 
Yes
State Owned: 
Yes
History: 

Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve was designated in 1969. The barrier islands and spits in the area began forming 5,000 years ago when sea level had risen essentially to its present position. The region is now primarily rural with scattered concentrations of single-family beach homes, but development pressure is increasing.

Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve is a shallow, neutral estuary and a barrier spit lagoon. It lies just east of the Apalachicola estuary and is enclosed by the Alligator Point sand spit. The harbor is approximately 4 miles long and 1 mile wide with a mean low water depth of approximately 4 feet. There is little freshwater inflow into the harbor, and salinity levels do not vary much from those in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico. While it appears that the aquatic preserve borders the Florida mainland on the north, the land mass is actually St. James Island, formed by the Ochlockonee and Crooked rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Alligator Harbor area is part of a broad, sandy shore plain that is constantly being altered by wind, rainfall, and sea level change, and is bordered by several prominent offshore shoal systems: Dog Island Reef to the southwest, South Shoal to the southeast, and the Ochlockonee Shoal to the east. Dog Island Reef is considered to be an example of a submerged barrier island; the South Shoal was probably deposited by the Ochlockonee River during a lower stand of sea level; and the Ochlockonee Shoal probably represents a downed barrier island or headland. 

Public Access: 

Recreational activities include fishing, boating, hiking (at Bald Point State Park), birding and beach-oriented activities such as surf-fishing, swimming and sunbathing. Bald Point State Park borders a portion of the aquatic preserve, but does not grant public access within the harbor. There is beach access and a boat ramp in St. Teresa on St. James Island and boat ramps on Alligator Point.

If you're interested in volunteering, the staff of Alligator Harbor has partnered with the Alligator Point Taxpayers Association, a network of active and concerned residents, who are interested in protecting the natural ecological diversity and functions of the harbor. This group volunteers with beach cleanup events, turtle patrol, water quality and bird surveys. The preserve staff provided the APTA newsletter with regular articles on the resources within and adjacent to the harbor and information on how citizens can stay involved in their environment.

Archaeological Resources: 

Most of the archaeological sites in the vicinity of Alligator Harbor are small and disturbed to varying degrees. However, one of the best-known examples of the late Deptford-early Swift Creek (1,000 B.C.-500 A.D.) ceremonial mound is the Yent Mound, located on Alligator Harbor. Another important site located on the harbor is the Tucker site, which contains some Swift Creek phase materials, but is primarily an example of the Weeden Island Phase (500 A.D.-1,000 A.D.). This site also contained a burial mound, as well as a village area.

Wildlife Habitat Description: 

The seagrass beds and saltmarshes of Alligator Harbor are important nursery grounds for many species of juvenile fish and invertebrates. Alligator Harbor is an important forage area for shorebirds and migratory birds, particularly trans-gulf migrants. Alligator Point is a vital resting spot for these birds. Alligator Harbor is one of the world's largest feeding grounds of the Kemp's ridley, the world's most endangered sea turtle.

Tidal Marsh - Tidal marshes (or saltmarshes) stabilize and bind sediments, protecting against erosion. They also provide significant nursery, feeding and reproductive habitat for a wide variety of organisms. Most of the saltmarshes in Alligator Harbor are located along the tidal creek at the eastern end of the harbor. The animal life of the saltmarsh is rich and diverse, including several species of invertebrates, fish, birds and even some mammals. 

Unconsolidated Substrate - Muddy, softbottom, unvegetated substrate comprises the majority of the open water zone and is the dominant natural community of the harbor. The relative composition of the sand, silt, clay and shell fractions of the sediments depends on the proximity to land, runoff conditions, water currents and biological productivity. This substrate is generally dominated by polychaetes and amphipods. 

Oyster Reefs - Oyster reefs are stable islands of substrate in an otherwise muddy environment. Their extensive surface area provides essential habitat for many animals, and the crevices provide a refuge for motile invertebrates such as crabs. They also can improve water clarity through filtration. They comprise approximately 291 acres within Alligator Harbor. 

Algal Beds - More than 300 species of algae have been found in the general area of Alligator Harbor. Red algae are the most conspicuous, but green algaes are also well-represented. Brown and blue-green algae are less conspicuous, but still present. These algal beds are an important food source for grazers.

Seagrass Beds - Seagrass beds are submerged flowering plants that stabilize sediments, entrap silt, recycle nutrients, provide shelter and habitat for animals, serve as nursery grounds and are important direct food sources. They are dependent on light and have a limited range in Alligator Harbor, due to the turbidity. The grassbeds in Alligator Harbor cover approximately 646 acres and are primarily shoal grass, manatee grass and turtle grass.

Habitat-Wildlife Type: 
Aquatic Preserves
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Last Modified:
November 13, 2018 - 3:09pm

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