By Trimmel Gomes | Public News Service
On Wednesday, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that would provide protections to the largest seagrass bed in the Gulf of Mexico.
House Bill 1061 by Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto passed overwhelmingly to create the first aquatic preserve in 32 years, including the coastlines of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.
The news comes with excitement for Capt. William Toney, a fourth-generation fishing guide in Citrus County.
"This aquatic preserve will protect us and hopefully, sustain our way of living and keep our rivers safe clean and everything, from if there is any issues with pollution," he states. "It's being proactive, is what it is."
Seagrass helps stabilize the sea floor, filters pollution and serves as habitat for fish species.
Some local governments did express concern about added bureaucracy for the state protections, but the measure received unanimous support in the Senate and is now on the governor's desk.
According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, commercially fished seagrass-dependent species and eco-tourism in the region generate around $600 million a year for the local economy, and support more than 10,000 jobs.
Holly Binns, Pew's project director for the Gulf of Mexico and U.S. Caribbean, says the preserve is a win-win for both the environment and the economy.
"It also supports traditional activities, ranging from fishing to scalloping, ecotours to view manatees," she states. "This is the manatee capital of the world. But it limits activities like drilling and dredging or filling submerged lands."
Since 2003, Citrus and Hernando counties each gained nearly $2 million a year in economic impact from recreational scallop harvesting.
And in Pasco County, seagrass is the essential habitat that helped recover a diminished scallop population, that was then able to support 10-day mini-seasons in 2018 and 2019.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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