WHY FLORIDA BAY FOREVER?

Florida Bay is a vast, shallow-water estuary situated at the end of the Everglades watershed. There is nowhere else in the world quite like it. Its renowned fisheries and diversity of birds and wildlife beckon travelers from around the globe. Generations of families and visitors have discovered the wonder of its untamed wilderness. However, the health of the Florida Bay ecosystem faces many threats, and the future of the bay is in our hands – we must work together to protect and conserve this special place for today and FOREVER

   INITIAL PROJECT FUNDING PRIORITIES

Seagrass Restoration

Seagrass is a key habitat within the Everglades ecosystem. It provides direct nourishment to the area’s beloved manatees and green sea turtles, but also provides shelter and food for much smaller wildlife that are essential in the food chain. Both storm systems and boating activities can cause damage to the seagrass. This project would implement small-scale seagrass restoration using methods such as planting plugs of seagrass in strategic areas to expedite recovery of healthy seagrass meadows.

Marine Debris Removal

The accumulation of debris poses a significant challenge to wildlife. Debris can affect eating and breeding habits, as well as cause irregularities in wildlife lifestyles. The funding would support volunteer-based efforts and contracted removal of larger items. In the process of volunteering, marine clean-up participants get a unique, up-close-and personal experience in one of their national parks, including personalized interactions with park rangers who educate the participants on park resources and issues. Volunteers have removed over one ton of marine debris annually from Cape Sable, and many other areas of the park would benefit from similar efforts.

Fishing Programs

Florida Bay is for everyone – even those without a boat of their own. This free weekly fishing program would serve more than 500 visitors annually and would be targeted towards first-time fishers. This program provides a firsthand catch-and-release experience.

Water Quality Monitoring

It’s undeniable that maintaining the water quality of Florida Bay is crucial to the prosperity of the fauna and flora found there, as well as to the livelihood of the human inhabitants of South Florida. Regular sample collection from Florida Bay will help the park quickly identify any potential challenges that could affect the quality of the water.

Boater Education Program

Enjoying the world-class marine resources of the Everglades takes world-class responsibility. This mandatory Boater Education Program for the park’s marine waters is based on the strong public concern for the protection of marine resources and the quality of visitor experiences in the park’s marine areas. In 2019, the Park launched the free Everglades Boater Education Course to orient and educate boaters to the unique features of the Park’s marine waters. Since then, more than 10,000 individual boaters have completed the course.

Fisheries Monitoring

This program will assess finfish and commercially important crabs, shrimp, etc., using multiple sampling gear across the marine waters of the Everglades. This will improve the park’s ability to determine the status of fishery resources, evaluate how the Park’s waters compare with other major estuaries around the state, and ensure that fishing is continued in a sustainable manner. The data will also help document the successes of Everglades Restoration and other changes that affect fish populations and recreational fishing opportunities.

Channel Markers & Navigation Aids

Access to the waters of Florida Bay is one of the greatest draws to Everglades National Park. More than 400 channel markers and in-water navigation aids are in constant need of maintenance and replacement – and locations for new markers are being identified all the time. Because of the popularity of Florida Bay, these waterway markers are in continuous need of repair due to many factors, including boaters anchoring to or running into them. The remote location of these markers within the wilderness of the bay, at the very southernmost point of the mainland, exponentially increases the time and effort it takes to maintain these signs.

Sea Turtle BioCorps Internship

Everglades National Park is recognized globally as an outdoor laboratory that provides real-world experience on biology, ecology, and conservation. Since its inception in 2013, over 50 BioCorps interns have helped support the park’s natural resources. Several former interns joined the Everglades and Biscayne workforce following their internships. The program has contributed greatly to meeting the long-term needs of the Everglades on a variety of emerging issues. This support would fund two BioCorps interns for one year.

   LONG TERM PROJECT FUNDING PRIORITIES

Wilderness Waterway Chickees

Chickees are the quintessential backcountry camping experience. There are 16 of these thatched roof structures placed on platforms throughout the Wilderness Waterway, from the Ten Thousand Islands on the Gulf Coast to Flamingo and Florida Bay, providing primitive shelter for boaters, kayakers and canoers alike. This project will provide chickees with ongoing maintenance and replacement of 2 – 4 structures per year. In 2021, three chickees will be updated with a new and improved design. Much like the seaside wayfinding signage, the remote location of these campsites within the wilderness of the waterway exponentially increases the time and effort it takes to maintain them.

Waterway Trail Maintenance

This project addresses maintenance of popular backcountry water trails including: Nine Mile Pond, Noble Hammock, Bear Lake, Mud Lake, West Lake, and Hell’s Bay water trails. Work includes reducing encroaching vegetation to a manageable level along 29 miles of the over-water trails. Wayfinding signage will be replaced or installed where needed and structures such as docks will repaired or replaced. This project will benefit our visitors and make the Flamingo backcountry safer, more accessible, and easier to maintain.

Law Enforcement Staff Support

Park use increases around 80% during winter season. The annual spike in visitorship needs to be complemented with a boost in law enforcement to protect backcountry resources. This support would provide Everglades National Park with two patrol rangers for a six-month period, during prime winter season when the park is busiest. They will patrol the marine backcountry between Flamingo and Key Largo, protecting recreational and fishing resources throughout Florida Bay.

Interpretation Staff Support

Interpretation rangers are the backbone of the visitor experience throughout the national park system. They interpret nature within the park for guests in a relatable and palatable way, providing experiences and insights that leave guests more knowledgeable about the world around them than when they arrived. With the expanded year-round operations at Flamingo comes increased visitors and therefore a need to boost interpretation staffing to better serve those visitors.

Historic Fish Cleaning Station

Fishing Florida Bay is a favorite pastime of Floridians, as well as an activity that attracts visitors from across the globe to Flamingo. And where there is fishing – especially in a remote location – a cleaning station is needed. This station is part of the historic Mission 66 initiative and annual maintence to the shelter, public restrooms and fish grinder, will keep the fish cleaning station function.

Everglades Youth Environmental Education Program

This program connects youth ranging from second grade through high school to the outdoors, encourages critical thinking about the environment, and instills a sense of wonder and stewardship for the natural world. In 2020, this program quickly pivoted to provide lessons 100% virtually, which extended the learning season and doubled the number the children it was able to reach – totaling an anticipated 40,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year. Once the pandemic eases, the park will offer the option of in-park learning or a virtual experience – and it plans to continue expanding the scale of this program.

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