Pensacola Perdido Watershed
A scenic landscape in the Pensacola and Perdido Bay watershed region. © Devin Ford

Stories in Florida

Pensacola and Perdido Bay Watershed

Revitalizing our estuaries.

Swimming in crystal clear water, eating delicious seafood, fishing, boating, strolling the beach or simply sitting and looking out at the view: these are activities that residents in the Pensacola East Bay region of Florida cherish. More than 5 million people live along Florida’s Gulf coast and care deeply about keeping this backyard treasure healthy for their children. So does The Nature Conservancy.

Florida Map showing Pensacola East Bay Region
Pensacola and Perdido Bay Watershed This map shows the location of Florida's Pensacola and Perdido Bay Watershed region, with more details in the map below. © TNC

Rich natural longleaf pine forests and wetland areas are important sources of clean fresh water and air. The Gulf Coast’s estuaries harbor oyster reefs, seagrass beds and marshes that provide critical habitat for marine life and sustain some of the state’s most important fisheries. Resilient coastal communities are directly tied to a healthy environment. Returning these areas to their natural conditions will benefit us all.

The work of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and our partners makes a strong case for the value and viability of conserving and protecting the Pensacola and Perdido watershed through a variety of projects. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to work together and create a legacy of prosperity for our children, grandchildren, residents and visitors. We can work together now to secure our future tomorrow. Conserving our natural resources through targeted conservation, management and restoration will accomplish these results.

Learn More about our Work in the Pensacola East Bay Region

Oyster Restoration
Oyster Work in the Bay Scientists and volunteers assist with oyster reef restoration efforts. © Anne Birch

Oyster Management and Restoration

Oyster reefs are important to our estuaries and our health. They provide important ecosystem services – filter and clean the water, provide nursery habitat for fish, shrimp, crabs and birds, and help to reduce shoreline erosion. For such a small animal with no backbone, oysters provide powerful services!

Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration
Led by The Nature Conservancy

This project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, is the largest scale estuarine habitat restoration TNC Florida has undertaken. The objective is to restore oyster habitat that has been lost in the East and Blackwater Bays in Santa Rosa County. The work complements restoration completed by the state on harvested reefs adjacent to the project site and will serve as a model for large-scale oyster habitat restoration.

Phase 1, which was completed in March 2019, consisted of two years of pre-restoration monitoring, permitting, and design of 33 individual oyster reefs of varying sizes to be located along approximately 6.5 miles of shoreline in East and Blackwater Bays in Santa Rosa County. We worked in partnership with stakeholders from local, state and federal agencies to share technical information and expertise on the project design.

Phase 2 is just getting underway and includes construction of the 33 reefs that were designed during Phase 1, followed by five years of monitoring to evaluate progress and success in the newly created habitat, and measure how many oysters are thriving. Stay tuned for updates.

Santa Rosa County Oyster Habitat Restoration Project
Led by The Nature Conservancy and Santa Rosa County

Knowing where oyster habitat exists today, how much is there and how healthy it is, are key pieces of information needed to fully restore a bay’s oyster population. Yet this information hasn't been collected from many estuaries. Part of a long-term goal to conserve, restore and manage oyster habitat in the greater Pensacola Bay system includes filling this gap in East and Blackwater Bays in Santa Rosa County. The oyster mapping and condition analysis that results from this project, along with creation of a county-wide oyster shell recycling program, will support future oyster restoration projects in the area. County and TNC staff plan to engage with the community through outreach and communications about the ecological, economic and social benefits of the Gulf's oyster and estuarine habitats and species. Funding for this project is provided by Santa Rosa County and the RESTORE Act.

Oyster Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management Plan
Led by the Nature Conservancy

Oysters are unique among Florida’s fisheries and coastal habitats. They are a species that is an important fishery and they create reefs that are some of the most important ‘fish making’ habitats in the world, supporting other commercially and recreationally important fishes.  Management of oysters must consider the interdependence of oysters with other species and habitat. This project will develop an oyster ecosystem-based fishery management plan for the greater Pensacola Bay system that integrates the needs of the oyster fisheries (both wild harvest and aquaculture) with the need to deliver ecosystem services and benefits provided by oyster habitat. This will serve as a model framework for transformation of the state’s management of oysters in Florida.

Currently, the State of Florida does not have a shellfish management plan. Creating oyster management plans at an individual bay scale is preferred since ecological and economic factors are unique from bay to bay.

Scientists work in the estuary
Scientists at work Monitoring in the Pensacola Bay estuaries. © Devin Ford

Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program

Led by Escambia County

Communities throughout the Pensacola and Perdido estuaries united to form the first Estuary Program in Florida’s Panhandle region, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement funds. This non-regulatory program will leverage and coordinate efforts among all stakeholders including local, state and federal government and the public, to identify science-based goals and objectives for restoring and conserving the watersheds’ environment and economy. The establishment of this program is the result of years of collaborative effort by local governments, non-government organizations, and public requests for the creation of an estuary program in Northwest Florida.

TNC played a pivotal role in conceiving the new estuary programs in the Panhandle, initiated by the Community-based Watershed Planning we organized and facilitated for every watershed in the Panhandle and the Springs Coast. TNC will continue to be an integral partner with the Estuary Program during the planning process.

The Estuary Program will guide the development of a science-based Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) that will be a fully vetted roadmap for achieving publicly identified environmental and economic outcomes and goals for the Pensacola and Perdido Bay watershed.

Little Blue Heron in Wetlands
Little Blue Heron The new wetland parks will attract wading birds and other wildlife to the area. © Kent Mason

Wastewater and Stormwater Management

Milton Wastewater Treatment Plant Relocation
Led by the City of Milton

The Milton Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is a direct discharge into the Blackwater River, which is upstream of our Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration Project. Relocating the plant would remove nutrient-laden discharge to the Perdido River, improving the water quality of both the river and the bays it flows into; facilitating connection to over 5,000 septic tanks from the potable well protection zone that provides water to the majority of Santa Rosa citizens; and facilitate reuse of the plant’s discharge water.  

Milton Wetland Stormwater Program
Led by the City of Milton

This nature-based stormwater program will create wetland parks to clean untreated stormwater currently discharging into the Blackwater River. The parks would provide a buffer between development and the river, increase the resilience of the community; raise property values of adjacent properties; create habitat for birds and other wildlife; and improve water quality. Both the WWTP relocation project and the stormwater improvement projects are led by the City of Milton.

Perdido River Paddling
Perdido River "Flori-Bama" paddling expedition provides recreation and education to participants. © Darryl Boudreau/TNC

Perdido River

Perdido Blueway Trail and Watershed Protection
Led by The Nature Conservancy

Rivers are the lifeblood of the Gulf of Mexico and to restore the Gulf, the rivers and the watersheds that drain to them must be restored. The goal of this project is to create a bluewater trail on the Perdido River and Bay so that paddlers can experience the watershed and its diverse habitats and see for themselves how the lands and waters along the river are connected. This is a joint effort by TNC in Alabama and Florida.  

In addition to the bluewater trail, land acquisition is a critical part of this project. The goal is to acquire and protect key parcels of land, floodplains and buffer areas to preserve important habitats, species, and the river’s water quality as development occurs in the Perdido watershed.

Flori-Bama Expedition on the Perdido River
Led by Paddle Florida

In March 2019 Paddle Florida hosted the Flori-Bama Expedition, a five-night, 60-mile paddle/camping trip down the Perdido River to the Gulf of Mexico that was enjoyed by 60 paddlers representing 12 states.

2020 has been named the "Year of the Gulf." A five-state – Florida to Texas - paddle event will celebrate this recognition and educate participants on the connection between the health of the watersheds that feed our rivers, and the health of the Gulf of Mexico overall.  

Yellow River
Yellow River The river will benefit from our sediment reduction efforts. © Eric Blackmore

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Sediment Reduction

Rattlesnake Bluff Road and Riverbank Restoration
Led by the U.S. Department of the Interior

Throughout Florida’s panhandle, heavy rainfall causes unpaved roads to become impassable and delivers sediments from the roads into our estuaries, reducing water quality. TNC and key partners conducted studies that identified Rattlesnake Bluff Road, an unpaved road in Santa Rosa County that commonly washes out and runs parallel to the Yellow River, as a high priority for improvement and restoration. This restoration is critical to protecting the River corridor that provides important habitat for state and federally protected species and drains into Blackwater Bay, a part of our Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration.

The project proposes to restore approximately 15 miles of road and 25 miles of river and tributary habitats, improving the river's environment and water quality and providing a stable and reliable road for residents and visitors.