The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves have been set aside to maintain essentially natural or existing conditions for future generations to enjoy. This mission has been under increased pressure with a growing coastal population, and demand for water dependent activities. Promoting and managing public use within our aquatic preserves that supports research, education and stewardship is essential to this mission. It is important to balance these activities in a compatible manner that protects natural, cultural and aesthetic resources of the aquatic preserves.
Fishing, boating, and wildlife observation are popular recreational activities within the aquatic preserves. Power boats, sail boats, kayaks and personal watercraft (PWC) are all commonly found in the estuary. Within and surrounding the aquatic preserves, there are more than 60 marinas, 25 boat ramps, and numerous PWC, boat, and paddlecraft rental operators. As the resident population within southwest Florida continues to rise and more people are vacationing within the region, the number of vessels utilizing the coastal waters is also rising. Lee County has the fourth highest number (more than 50,000) of registered boats in the state of Florida. Impacts from boat propellers to natural resources have become a concern both statewide and within the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves. Boat propellers can tear up seagrass beds, which are vitally important to the estuarine ecosystem. One incident of damaging a seagrass bed could take 5-10 years for that bed to recover. Increasing damage to seagrass beds from improper boating techniques led to the passing of legislation in 2009 making it illegal to cause destruction to seagrass beds in aquatic preserves. Staff assisted law enforcement agencies with this new law and familiarized them with local seagrass species. CHAP staff also coordinated the installation of prop scarring rule notification signs at boat ramps, marinas and other access points to the aquatic preserves with local counties, cities and other businesses.
Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards are also becoming a more common sight throughout the estuaries. One large contributor to this increase was the creation of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, a 190-mile marked canoe and kayak trail that runs through Estero Bay, San Carlos Bay, Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass, and up into the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries. These marked trails provide a safe and informative environment for paddling enthusiasts, as the trails average only around four feet deep and traverse areas protected from heavy winds. Although not marked on the water, the Charlotte County Blueway and the Florida Paddling Trails Association also provide maps of paddling trails throughout Lemon Bay, Cape Haze, and Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor aquatic preserves. Paddlecraft provide a low impact way for nature enthusiasts to enjoy the estuaries with little to no impact to the environment.
Marine debris is also a continuous challenge within the aquatic preserves. Irresponsible fishing practices can leave a mark on the environment through fishing line, hooks, lures, bobbers, nets and other items entangled and left in mangroves and other structures. Fishing line is of critical concern for colonial water bird populations, as well as other wildlife. Animal entanglement is a problem as abandoned line caught among mangroves and manmade structures is prevalent around the estuary. CHAP staff clean the rookery islands after nesting season, and people are encouraged to bring in all line and recycle it at monofilament containers located at many boat ramps and fishing piers.
Finally, CHAP is hosting boating and snorkeling eco-venturesto help promote low-impact recreation and provide additional recreational and educational opportunities for the public.
The public is encouraged to enjoy the aquatic preserves while employing proper boating and fishing techniques to help preserve the natural resources for future generations to enjoy.
February 10, 2020 - 3:24pm
Interested in subscribing to DEP newsletters or receiving DEP updates through email?
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.