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 About the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve
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Description of Site
Ecological Importance
Rare / Endangered Species
Geomorphic Features
Archaeological Features
Management Status


Deborah Shelley - Deborah.Shelley@dep.state.fl.us
8300 West State Road 46
Sanford, Florida 32771
Phone #: (407) 330-6727
Office hours: 8:00am-5:00pm (field staff availability varies)

Description of Site

The Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve is an estuarine system comprised of six distinct areas which include portions of the Halifax River, Smith Creek, Bulow Creek, the Tomoka River, the Tomoka Basin and an 1,100 acre mosquito impoundment area. The endangered West Indian manatee is a summer resident of the area, traveling in the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers.

Approximately seven miles of the Halifax River, north from the southern boundary of Ormond by the Sea is designated aquatic preserve. The Halifax is a long, wide, shallow estuarine lagoon bounded on the west by the Florida mainland and on the east by a barrier island. The mixing of salt water from the Atlantic Ocean introduced through the Matanzas inlet to the north and the Ponce DeLeon Inlet to the south, with fresh water from the Tomoka River, Bulow Creek, and the upper Halifax River drainage basin creates the estuary. The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) channel is part of the Halifax River. The ICW is 125 feet wide and had been dredged to a depth of 12 feet.

Smith Creek is a shallow, estuarine creek with numerous oyster beds. Portions of the natural channel of the creek were dredged to accommodate the ICW. The remaining natural channel is primarily salt marsh, interspersed with small islands, both natural and created.

Bulow Creek is a shallow meandering waterway bordered by marsh and floodplain hardwood trees. From its origin in vast wetlands to the north, the creek flows south for about 4 miles meandering to its confluence with the Halifax River. Large expanses of black needle rush (Juncus roemerianus) border the creek.

The Tomoka River watershed drains an area of about 150 square miles, making it one of the largest sub-basins within the Florida East Coast Basin. Man-made drainage in the form of numerous canals has increased the boundary of the Tomoka watershed. The natural headwaters of the Tomoka River originate in low-lying areas south of Interstate 4 (I-4) and west of Interstate 95 (I-95). From its natural headwaters, the river flows generally north-northeast until its confluence with the Halifax River at the Tomoka Basin. The Tomoka River east of U.S. 1 is designated aquatic preserve.

The Tomoka Basin is approximately 400 acres of shallow estuarine bay, located at the confluence of the Tomoka and Halifax Rivers.

The 1100-Acre Mosquito Impoundment consists mainly of tidal marshes interspersed with open water with perimeter and some interior ditches. The impoundment has not been actively managed since 1980 and is permanently opened to the Halifax River and other areas by large culverts and two breaches in the impoundment dike walls. Although the marsh inside the impoundment is disturbed, the culverts and breaches provide access for many species of fish. The area is utilized by fisherman and for commercial crabbing. Numerous wading birds including wood stork, roseate spoonbill, snowy egret, great egret, great blue heron, and white ibis are often observed feeding in the area. Shorebirds such as black-bellied plover, spotted sandpiper, least tern, royal tern, and several species of gull also utilize the area.


October 21, 1969


The preserve is located along the east coast in southeastern Flagler County and northeastern Volusia County near the cities of Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach.


Approximately 8,000 acres of submerged lands and 10 acres of spoil islands


Tomoka Drainage Basin � approximately 150 square miles
Halifax River Drainage Basin � approximately 75 square miles


Estuarine habitats comprised of tidal marshes dominated by black needle rush (Juncus roemerianus) or smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora); unconsolidated substrates with mud, sand, shell or oyster beds; algal beds; and blackwater streams.

Ecological Importance

The Tomoka Marsh Aquatic preserve is a valuable nursery area for fishes, shrimp, and crabs caught commercially and recreationally in the Atlantic Ocean. Other species not directly important to commercial fishing but necessary to the food chain also depend on the estuary and the diversity of habitats within.

The preserve is utilized by over 50 species of fish, including snook and redfish, as well as manatees, marine turtles, bottlenose dolphin, wood storks, numerous wading birds and a variety of other wildlife.

The Halifax River and Smith Creek are an important travel corridor for the endangered West Indian manatee. The Tomoka River and its downstream tributaries are especially significant to the slow-moving manatees as quiet places to eat, rest, drink fresh water, mate and give birth. The Tomoka River system was the site of the first documented manatee birth in the wild. The Tomoka River and its tributaries Strickland, Thomson and Dodson Creek are designated as a Manatee Sanctuary and are used by manatee during the summer months. Other listed species that utilize the aquatic preserve include wood stork, bald eagle, snowy egret, Atlantic salt marsh snake, and common snook.

Rare / Endangered Species

Common Name
Scientific Name
common snook Centropomus undecimalis n/a n/a
American alligator Alligator mississipiensis SSC T (s/a)
Eastern indigo snake Drymarchon corais couperi T T
gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus SSC n/a
Atlantic salt marsh snake Nerodia fasciata taeniata T T
Florida pine snake Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus SSC n/a
roseate spoonbill Ajaia ajaja SSC n/a
Florida scrub jay Aphelocoma coerulescens T n/a
little blue heron Egretta caerulea SSC n/a
snowy egret Egretta thula SSC n/a
tricolor heron Egretta tricolor SSC n/a
white ibis Eudocimus albus SSC n/a
Southeastern American kestrel Falco sparverius paulus T n/a
bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus T E
brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis SSC n/a
least tern Sterna antillarum T n/a
West Indian manatee Trichechus manatus E E
giant leather fern Acrostichum danaeifolium C n/a
green-fly orchid Epidendrum conopseum C n/a
shell mound prickly pear cactus Opuntia stricta T n/a
Florida coontie Zamia floridana C n/a

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

Geomorphic Features

Smith Creek, Halifax River, Tomoka Basin, Bulow Creek, Tomoka River

Archaeological Features

Nineteen prehistoric sites have been identified near the preserve including the remains of the Timucuan village, Nocoroco. The Nocoroco site had as many as 200 palmetto-thatched huts, a common granary, and a council meeting house. Nocoroco was situated at the tip of the peninsula that is now Tomoka State Park, looking out into the Tomoka Basin.


The preserve supports a variety of uses including fishing, boating, canoeing, crabbing, and wildlife observation. Commercial activities include canoe and boat rentals, eco-tourism, guided fishing, and crabbing. A variety of research activities have occurred in the preserve including water quality monitoring, a 5-year juvenile fisheries assessment, salt marsh snake survey, and radio telemetry manatee tracking.

Management Status


The Tomoka River is designated as an Outstanding Florida Water and Manatee Sanctuary.

Ownership / Manager

Title to all submerged lands and spoil islands within the preserve is vested with the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, held in trust for the people of Florida. Staff of the Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas fulfills management responsibilities.

Major management / research / monitoring activities

Current projects include analyzing and publishing the results of the 5-year juvenile fisheries survey; preparing and publishing the results of a two year bird survey; preparing for an adult fisheries survey; and participating in the restoration of a disturbed area of Bulow Creek.

Management Issues and Threats

Protection of manatee habitat and motor boat control; abatement of sand deposition from upstream sources; cumulative impacts to water quality associated with point and non-point sources of pollution; restoration of disturbed areas; exotic plant control; environmental education; growth management.

Management needs

Limited staffing and funding does not allow adequate time to address all aspects of the many complex issues facing the Tomoka / Halifax system. Immediate needs include additional staff and equipment for exotic plant control, research, restoration of disturbed habitat, project review and environmental education.


Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Preserve Management Plan. Florida Department of Natural Resources, Tallahassee, Florida

Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. 1997. Florida�s Endangered Species, Threatened Species and Species of Special Concern, Official Lists. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Tallahassee, Florida.

Last updated: April 06, 2015

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