Freshwater habitats are one of Earth’s most endangered and least protected environments. They are also the basis of your water supply and mine! Florida has 50,000 miles of rivers and streams, plus many high-quality springs that bubble millions of gallons of pure, clear water daily. These also support a wide array of fishes and other fascinating aquatic species.
Many Florida rivers feed the Gulf of Mexico, and their condition has never been more important. If they are full of sediments or pollution such as fertilizer and sewage runoff, this further stresses the Gulf. Dams and culverts, habitat loss, and climate change also pose freshwater threats.
“When fully connected as nature intended, our springs, rivers and streams are stronger and more resilient, or able to resist natural and man-made impacts,” says Steve Herrington, director of freshwater conservation in Florida.
“With your support, the Conservancy team works in several ways – across Florida and beyond – to keep freshwater systems healthy and alive,” he continues. These include:
• Resilience – researching methods to strengthen freshwater habitats
• Restoration – pursuing strategies that restore and connect critical habitats
• Acquisition – purchasing or assisting the purchase of large blocks of natural lands or systems
• Policy and legislation – informing state and regional freshwater decision-making.
Here are some recent projects you may enjoy learning more about:
The Florida manatee – teetering on the brink of extinction – has suffered record die-offs in recent winters. The Conservancy has begun a program to aid the manatee’s survival by improving its access to warmer wintertime retreats at several high-priority springs. The manatee’s future depends upon its being able to migrate between marine and freshwater systems. No coincidence: We’re also restoring nearby seagrass beds for the manatee to snack on during summer.
The Conservancy has completed two dam removal and steephead stream restoration projects in the Panhandle. At Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, “Puddin’ Head Lake” had engulfed over 90 percent of a rare steephead stream. Although less demanding, the project was modeled after our ground-breaking restoration of Kelly Branch at nearby Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve in 2007. Careful monitoring is proving that streams and rare species can recover quickly.
Imperiled Alabama shad and other migratory fishes are again reaching over 150 miles of historic spawning sites within the Apalachicola River drainage! Florida staff instigated and coordinates a multiagency, multistate, 6-year project that resulted in three hydroelectric dam locks being opened for fish passage – including Jim Woodruff Lock & Dam. Preliminary monitoring indicates upriver spawning and suggests a substantial population increase of Alabama shad in the drainage from 2005 to 2010.
Another project should improve the future for the ancient Gulf surgeon. After an inventory of impaired sites in over 200 miles of the Yellow River, Florida staff found that the only known sturgeon spawning site in the river was badly deteriorated. Partners are quickly being brought together to restore the site. Now when the 200-million-year-old Gulf sturgeon migrates up the river – one of only seven in the world where it spawns – its perilous reproductive journey should have a happier ending.
Over the last 50 years, the Conservancy has built strong partnerships in Florida. Our work is leveraged many times over by the support of public agencies, private landowners, universities, foundations, business and community leaders – plus thousands of volunteers like you. We salute you!