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Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve Project Spotlight

"As the only deep water harbor between Tampa and Key West, greater Charlotte Harbor is blessed with a rich abundance and diversity of marine life and requires our constant and continued efforts to ensure the future health of its waters."

Anna Bowditch, Honorary Member
Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program Advisory Committee

White and brown pelicans

Key Accomplishments

  • Annual seagrass monitoring since 1999 at 20 different sites in the Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve examines types, density, distribution and other parameters. Results indicate that seagrasses vary significantly throughout CHAP but generally appear healthy and diverse. Some of the most dense seagrass beds in CHAP occur within Gasparilla Sound.
  • Monthly water quality monitoring since 1996 by more than 20 citizen volunteers indicates that water clarity is good with high natural color from mangrove tannins. Spikes in turbidity, bacteria and nutrients are associated with rain events and stormwater runoff.
  • Five state-owned spoil islands are located in Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor. Dog Island, a popular island for human use, is part of an exotic plant removal and native replanting pilot project in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves. The first phase of exotic treatment is complete: 75 Australian pines and nearly 100 Brazilian peppers have been treated.


Charlotte Harbor Snorkeling and Nature Boat Tour Eco-ventures

CHAP staff conduct Eco-venture trips in Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve. These interactive trips inform the public about aquatic preserves and their importance, the ecological and economic benefits of the different estuarine habitats as well as identification of the local estuarine animals. Among those observed includes dolphins, manatees, wading birds, migratory birds such as white pelicans, shorebirds, fish, crabs and other invertebrates. Habitats include seagrass beds, oyster reefs, tidal flats, mangrove forests, and rookery islands. They support numerous species, including important recreational and commercial fishery species. CHAP offers two types of trips depending on the time of year. During the fall and winter months, patrons participate in the CHAP Nature Boat Tours where the opportunity to view this aquatic preserve from the boat is offered.  During the spring and summer months, participants snorkel to see firsthand the species diversity that the seagrass beds support. These two-hour cruises are led by a licensed captain and environmental specialists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection/Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves aboard the 25 foot Windsorcraft vessel.

Quick Facts about Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve
Map of Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve

Star fish

Turtle grass

Turtle grass

Goliath grouper
Goliath grouper

Sailing at dusk
Returning home from a day of sailing in Charlotte Harbor


Charlotte and Lee counties


84,501 acres of sovereign submerged lands


Mindy Brown
Aquatic Preserve Manager
12301 Burnt Store Road
Punta Gorda, FL 33955
(941) 575-5861 

Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves Management Plan (pdf - 42.9 MB)


  • This is the second largest estuary in Florida and the largest, deepest and most diverse of the five Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves.
  • Fresh water from the Peace and Myakka Rivers mixes with salt water coming through Boca Grande Pass from the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Shallow, near-shore shoals sustain an abundance of seagrasses, oysters and mudflats. This variety of habitats support more than 100 invertebrate species, 200 fish species and 150 shore and wading birds species.
  • Fishing is popular among seagrass shallows, mangrove fringes and artificial reefs. Major tarpon and goliath grouper populations are found near Boca Grande Pass.
  • The harbor supports recreational boating along with commercial clam aquaculture and shrimping.

Last updated: June 26, 2017

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