The Florida Gulf Coast’s 770 miles of coast, 5,000 miles of tidal shoreline, and 7 million acres of tidally submerged lands stretch from temperate Pensacola to tropical Key West. The state’s barrier islands, estuaries, beaches, seagrass meadows, wetlands and mangrove forests are world-renowned. The Florida coast also incorporates many rare habitats – lakes within coastal dunes, the Everglades’ River of Grass and the coral reefs of the Florida Keys.
With its length and diversity, the Florida coast is a major ecological driver for the Gulf of Mexico as a whole. The state’s many coastal estuaries provide food, shelter, and important nurseries for a wide range of fish, birds and other marine life. Similarly, much of the coast, including the Florida Keys, provides important habitat for endangered shore birds, beach mice, manatees and sea turtles.
Florida’s long coastline also fuels the state’s economic engine. Its white sandy beaches are consistently ranked among the best in the nation, and millions of people come to Florida each year to fish, dive, swim, and view wildlife. Florida has more world-record fish catches than anywhere else in the world and it leads all states in economic return for its marine recreational fisheries. Similarly, its commercial fishery is the second-largest in the nation. Nearly 300,000 people work in the tourism industry on Florida’s Gulf Coast alone.
Although the state’s coastline is diverse and extensive, there are common problems across the coast, particularly the need to improve water quality, rebuild wetlands and oyster reefs and restore more natural timing and patterns of river flows to estuaries. Watersheds across the state also need to address nutrient pollution, stormwater, and sedimentation, which harm water quality and clarity.
In total, Florida is certain to receive approximately $1.7 billion dollars that can be used for restoration as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. More than a sixth of these funds have already been awarded to projects aimed at improving water quality, restoring oyster reefs and benefiting birds and sea turtle populations, with additional expenditure plans currently underway to dedicate more of the funds. The remaining money will become available over the next decade and a half.