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Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve - Coastal and Watershed Development Quick Topics

Since the 1950s, southwest Florida and Fort Myers have seen amazing growth and prosperity and have become premiere destinations for sun-seekers, investors and retirees. This has brought and will continue to bring a multitude of challenges to maintain a healthy environment for not only the local economy (of which a good segment is based on tourism), but also for the ecological health of area residents, and for the intrinsic value of southwest Florida habitats themselves. Fortunately, this importance was recognized decades ago by area citizens, and residents today are enjoying the result of their past efforts in the vast array of public lands located within the area. The motivation for the creation of Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, for example, came from a growing awareness that coastal development was destroying the natural areas needed to maintain a healthy fishery, as well as an increasing realization that the old policy of selling submerged lands for development was in fact harming the state's economic activities, and at a rather small profit to the state in terms of revenue.

Aerial view of Fort Myers Beach

Aerial view of Fort Myers Beach looking toward the east side of the bay. Photo credit: Lee County Mosquito Control District

The citizen-based Lee County Conservation Association (LCCA) was instrumental in two legal and regulatory victories for Estero Bay and its watershed. The first victory was the establishment of the aquatic preserve and by example, the future creation of all Florida aquatic preserves. The second victory was the challenge of defining how coastlines could be developed, in terms of bulkhead lines and filling of submerged lands. This victory changed the way Florida would allow development of shorelines from that time forward. At that time, developer Robert Troutman intended to create a large community in the wetlands on the north side of Estero Bay near Winkler Point. The LCCA challenged not only Troutman but the state as well, claiming that the filling of submerged lands within this parcel constituted the stealing of publicly owned lands. As a result of this challenge, this land is now part of the Estero Bay Preserve State Park, currently managed by DEP's Division of Recreation and Parks. Today the state adheres to this principle of land preservation and as such actively continues to acquire environmentally important lands, both submerged and upland, in order to protect water quality and to help maintain essential ecological habitats. The state park, for example, is of vital importance to estuarine water quality due to its ability to filter sheetflow entering the bay from across the landscape.

In other portions of the estuary and its watershed that are currently undergoing growth, there has been a shift toward an emphasis on environmentally friendly building and development techniques, as well as an emphasis on the importance of project impact minimization. This focus on smart growth helps to assuage future cumulative impacts to the landscape. Additionally, in already developed portions of the watershed, efforts such as septic tank retrofitting for individual homes and even entire neighborhoods have begun to emerge. Moreover, endeavors to improve the water quality of Estero Bay and its tributaries have begun to concentrate more on nonpoint sources of pollution. As such, the combination of land preservation, smart growth principles, and development retrofitting efforts is essential to sustaining the area’s healthy economy and quality of life for not only its current residents, but for future generations as well.

Staff with Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve provide input to state and local land acquisiton organizations regarding the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands within the Estero Bay watershed. In addition, they work to serve as a point of contact for information regarding the health of Estero Bay's natural resources for the public and area decision makers, and promotes research of environmentally sensitive development and land use practices.

Last updated: December 18, 2015

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