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 About the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves
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Description of Site
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Management Status

Heather Stafford - Heather.Stafford@dep.state.fl.us
12301 Burnt Store Road
Punta Gorda, FL 33955
(941) 575-5861 Fax: (941) 575-5863

Description of Site

The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves are actually five contiguous aquatic preserves within the greater Charlotte Harbor estuary complex to be designated by Legislature for inclusion in the aquatic preserve system under the Florida Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975. The preserves are the Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve in the north, to Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve and Gasparilla Sound - Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve, to Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve and Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve in the south.


Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve - July, 1986

Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve - 1978

Gasparilla Sound - Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve - 1979

Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve - 1972

Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve - 1970

For specifics, consult F.A.C. 18-20 of the Florida Administrative Codes


The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves are located in southwest Florida within the greater Charlotte Harbor watershed. They stretch from Sarasota County through Charlotte County into Lee County.
Nearby Towns or cities: Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda


The five preserves total over 150,000 acres.


Charlotte Harbor - Polk, Hardee, Sarasota, Desoto, Charlotte and Lee Counties

Approximately 4,500 square miles

Land : Water ratio 32:1


The most common biological communities in the Charlotte Harbor aquatic preserves include:

Mangroves - reds (Rhizophora mangle), blacks (Avicennia germinans), whites (Laguncularia racemosa), and buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus)

Seagrasses - turtle (Thalassia testudinum), manatee (Syringodium filiforme), and Cuban shoal (Halodule wrightii)

Salt Marshes - salt marsh grass (Distichlis spicata), needlerush (Juncus roemerianus), and cordgrass (Spartina spp.)

Oyster Communities

Tidal Flats - estuarine beaches, spoil areas, shoal areas, and mud flats

Ecological Importance

Commercial, Recreational and Ecologically Important Species:

Recreational species include mullet, spotted sea trout, red drum, flounder, blue crab, pink shrimp, stone crab, snook, tarpon, grouper, snapper, sheepshead and several species of shark.

Commercial species are cobia, flounder, mullet, pompano, spotted sea trout, snapper, tripletail, blue crab and pink shrimp.

Eighty six of the state�s endangered and threatened species are found within the Charlotte Harbor region (listed by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals).

Nursery Area:

Mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes provide exceptional nursery areas for many commercial and recreational species.

Rare / Endangered Species

Common Name Scientific Name State Federal
American alligator Alligator mississipiensis SSC T (s/a)
Atlantic loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta caretta T T
Atlantic green turtle Chelonia mydas mydas E E
leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea E E
Atlantic hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata E E
Kemp's ridley Lepidochelys kempi E E
roseate spoonbill Ajaia ajaja SSC n/a
Southeastern snowy plover Charadrius alexandrinus tenuirostris T n/a
piping plover Charadrius melodus T T
Marian's marsh wren Cistrothorus palustris marianae SSC n/a
little blue heron Egretta caerulea SSC n/a
reddish egret Egretta rufescens SSC n/a
snowy egret Egretta thula SSC n/a
tricolored heron Egretta tricolor SSC n/a
white ibis Eudocimus albus SSC n/a
peregrine falcon Falco peregrinus E E
Southeastern American kestrel Falco sparverius paulus T n/a
American oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus SSC n/a
bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus T T
wood stork Mycteria americana E E
brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis SSC n/a
Everglades kite Rostrhamus sociabilis imbricata E E
least tern Sterna antillarum T n/a
roseate tern Sterna dougalli T T
Florida manatee Trichechus manatus E E

State listings are taken from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or as with plants Florida Department of Agriculture.  Federal listings are taken from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. E= Endangered; T= Threatened; T (s/a)= Threatened due to similarity in appearance; SSC= Species of Special Concern; UR= Under review; n/a= information not available or no designation listed; C=Commercially exploited

Geomorphic Features

The Lemon Bay Aquatic Preserve is a linear inlet system connected by previous dredging activities. Lemon Bay proper is low and flat with large areas of wetland occurring inland east of the bay and along the shorelines of the mainland and barrier islands. Tributary creeks within the watershed are winding, with little gradient and natural shorelines are irregular.

The Gasparilla Sound - Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve and Cape Haze Aquatic Preserve are relatively uncomplicated, low and flat. Both mainland and barrier island elevations are low, averaging about 10 feet in elevation. Two major tributaries drain into the preserves as well as several extensive residential canal systems located in Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, and Cape Haze in northwestern Charlotte County.

The Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass forms a long, narrow basin with few canals. During the Pleistocene period, sand and clay materials were transported and deposited by sea waters making up the parent material underlying the islands and coastal mainland of the Pine Island Sound / Matlacha Pass basin. Topography ranges from sea level to no greater than 10 feet along the barrier islands and coastal mainland.

Archaeological Features

There are many significant archaeological and historical sites located within and adjacent to the greater Charlotte Harbor. For the past 7-8,000 years, the resource base of this area has been estuarine in nature, with the PaleoIndian Period, dating 12,000 years ago being the earliest known occupation of the area.


The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves provide many types of recreational and commercial uses for permanent and part-time residents and visiting tourists including recreational and commercial boating and fishing, single and multi family structures, swimming, commercial uses such as docks and boat slips associated with restaurants, marinas and resorts, and miscellaneous utility uses.

The two southern preserves in particular lie adjacent to many beautiful and highly utilized parks and beaches including Cayo Costa State Park and the J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. Nature observations and shell collection are also popular activities within the aquatic preserve.

Number of Aqua Culture Sites 2
Number of Artificial Reefs 4
Number of Anchorages 19

Management Status


The area has state designations as an Aquatic Preserve, Outstanding Florida Waterway, and Class II and Class III waters.
Designated as an EPA Gulf of Mexico Ecological Management Site (GEMS) and as a National Estuarine Preserve (NEP).

Resource Management

The overall goals of resource management within the aquatic preserves areas are:

  1. maintaining current, detailed resource inventories,
  2. maintaining an up-to-date inventory of physical alterations from human activities,
  3. restoring and enhancing littoral zone habitats,
  4. improving water quality, and
  5. encouraging uses of adjacent uplands which protect and enhance the resources in the aquatic preserves.

Specific resource management activities within the aquatic preserves of Charlotte Harbor include:

  1. development of a resource base map,
  2. participation in Charlotte Co. Marine Advisory Committee,
  3. participation in Charlotte Co. Manatee & Seagrass Committee,
  4. coordination with aquaculture activities,
  5. NEP Technical Advisory Committee,
  6. patrols,
  7. coordinating volunteer monitoring,
  8. starting a citizens group,
  9. assistance with field and written project reviews.


One of the primary aims of the Aquatic Preserve Program is to educate the general public and policy makers about the importance of natural resources in the preserves and the effects of certain actions on those resources. Specific educational activities within the preserve include aquatic preserve signs, educational displays and presentations.


Site specific research and monitoring activities conducted by aquatic preserve staff are coordinated with the research and monitoring efforts of the DEP Marine Research Institute and other appropriate agencies and institutions. The goals of the research program for the preserves are as follows:

  1. determine changes that are occurring in aquatic communities within the preserves,
  2. determine changes that are occurring in manatee use of the area, and
  3. encourage continuing research on specific issues within the preserves. Specific research and monitoring activities within the aquatic preserves includes:
    1. monitoring boating use in anchorages,
    2. monitoring physical conditions in anchorages,
    3. managing volunteer water monitoring program,
    4. conducting monthly Lower Charlotte Harbor and Lower Lemon Bay water sampling,
    5. conducting annual seagrass monitoring in aquatic preserves,
    6. assisting with SWFWMD seagrass productivity monitoring,
    7. supporting resource monitoring grant in artificial reefs, and
    8. supporting resource monitoring grant in aquaculture sites.

Resource Management Concerns

Resource management concerns specific to the aquatic preserves include: increasing boat traffic, protection of listed species and their habitats, removal of littoral vegetation, exotic species, protection of archaeological sites, hydrology restoration, dredging impacts, and stormwater and wastewater discharges.


Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. 1998. Proceedings of The Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium. Technical Report No. 98-02. pp. 274.

Division of Recreation and Parks. 1983. Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves Management Plan. Department of Natural Resources. pp. 120.

Estevez, E.D. 1998. The Story of the Greater Charlotte Harbor Watershed. Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. pp. 135.

Last updated: April 06, 2015

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