Summer along the Nature Coast of Florida is defined by movement and change. Manatees leave the spring fed rivers that provide them warmth in the winter and wander up and down the coast. Swallowtail Kites are here for the summer nesting and they swoop and soar over the landscape. If we get the rains we need the black water rivers swell and rise, and flow strongly out into the coastal marshes that separate the land from the sea. In this landscape defined by the pronounced lack of white sand beaches it is not the summer of tanning and beach postcards so common in the rest of Florida, it is a summer of nature at its most grand and most intimate.
Stretching from just north of TampaBayto ApalacheeBay in the Big Bend region, the NatureCoast is one of the longest, wildest coastlines left in America. It is the embodiment of nature at the landscape scale, a powerful reminder of what once was along the gulf coast and what still could be if we summon the grace and wisdom to keep it as it is. This is the Florida that John Muir walked through in 1867. This is the Florida of William Bartram. This is the Florida of my childhood, and I hope and pray it will be the Florida of my grandchildren. The Gulf Restoration Network, working with our allies and partners in the region and across Florida, is working hard to ensure that this happens.
This is has been an exciting and challenging summer thus far for the Nature Coast of Florida. The environment has seen victory and loss, and the challenges remain great.
The GRN was proud to have been one of the groups that spearheaded a successful campaign to convince Florida Governor Charlie Crist to veto a bill passed by the Florida Legislature that would have weakened protections for seagrass beds in Florida. This successful call for a veto was a major victory to protect the coastlines, fisheries, and marine species of the gulf coast of Florida. Stretching the length of the NatureCoast is the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve. These world class seagrass beds are essential to the life cycle of hundred of gulf species. Governor Crist, in vetoing this bill, ensured that protections for Florida’s seagrass beds and for the NatureCoast would not move in the wrong direction. In the 2009 session of the Florida Legislature a coalition of conservation groups is committed to passing strong legislation would protect Florida’s seagrass beds.
While we had a victory in our work to protect seagrass beds in Florida, efforts to protect the NatureCoast suffered a setback when the Suwannee River Water Management District approved some of the early permits for the Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary in the northern NatureCoast. We have been fighting this massive development project since it was Magnolia Bay. We continue to believe that a development of this size, that would involve the loss of coastal wetlands and would set a dangerous precedent for the NatureCoast, is the wrong project in the wrong place. And while the first permits were granted, we believe progress has been made. This project still needs local, state, and federal permits and GRN is continuing to organize a coalition of groups to stop this project (over 40 Florida conservation groups called for these permits to be denied). We won some of the early rounds, and we’ll win the next ones as well. Stay tuned to keep up with the latest developments with this and other FloridaNatureCoast issues.
Summer along the NatureCoast continues as it has for thousands of years. Tides come and go, the sun and moon rise and set, and the next generation of life bursts forth in the woods, wetlands, and wilderness of the special place. Florida Black Bears seek solace from the heat, and powerful thunderstorms form daily in dazzling testament to the power of nature. It is an amazing time to be out and about along the NatureCoast, and it is an amazing place. GRN is committed to ensuring that all that is wild and free along the NatureCoast stays that way.
Joe Murphy, Florida Program Coordinator