The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves encompass five aquatic preserves and protect more than 180,000 acres, set aside so that their aesthetic, biologic and scientific values endure for the enjoyment of future generations.
Aquatic preserves staff and volunteers routinely monitor water quality and natural resources in the bay, such as seagrasses and nesting birds; provide educational materials, scientific data and provide outreach presentations upon request; and work with the Friends of Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves to conduct water quality monitoring and other aspects of management. Eco-ventures, including snorkeling and nature boat tours, are offered to provide hands-on experiences in the aquatic preserves.
The aquatic preserves in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve complex include:
- Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve
- Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve
- Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve
- Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve
- Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve
Management: The Florida aquatic preserves are administered on behalf of the state by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Florida Coastal Office (FCO) as part of a network that includes 41 aquatic preserves, 3 National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs), a National Marine Sanctuary, the Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Florida Coastal Management Program, the Outer Continental Shelf Program, and the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council. This provides for a system of significant protections to ensure that our most popular and ecologically important underwater ecosystems are cared for in perpetuity. Each of these special places is managed with strategies based on local resources, issues, and conditions.
With increasing development, recreation, and economic pressures, our aquatic resources have the potential to be significantly impacted, either directly or indirectly. These potential impacts to resources can reduce the health and viability of the ecosystems that contain them, requiring active management to ensure the long-term health of the entire network. Effective management plans for the aquatic preserves are essential to address this goal and each site’s own set of unique challenges. The purpose of these plans is to incorporate, evaluate, and prioritize all relevant information about the site into a cohesive management strategy, allowing for appropriate access to the managed areas while protecting the longterm health of the ecosystems and their resources. The Management Plan for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves was approved in 2017.