Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 1061 into law, which creates the new Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve and protects about 400,000 acres of seagrass in the state’s waters. Off Florida’s west coast, seagrass beds stretch for miles and for decades have supported a significant part of the regional economy. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve off Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties is the first new preserve to be designated in more than 30 years and the 42nd in a state system designed to maintain water quality and biological value to ensure healthy ecosystems. The preserve, which covers part of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest seagrass bed, still allows traditional activities such as boating, fishing, and scalloping.
More than 100 Nature Coast businesses, nine state and national recreational fishing and marine industry organizations, the Citrus and Hernando county commissions and The Pew Charitable Trusts backed creation of the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve. Supporters agreed that the preserve would be especially helpful in safeguarding the tricounty area’s water quality. Seagrass-related activities in the region generate more than $600 million annually for the economy, provide more than 10,000 jobs, and support about 500 businesses. The new preserve will border several existing ones in Pinellas County, St. Martins Marsh, and the Big Bend, creating a large contiguous protected area for valuable marine coastline.