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.
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.
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.
Aquatic preserves' natural heritage is entrusted to us — to explore, experience and protect — for future generations.
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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.