PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — This week NOAA announced $16 million dollars in research grants to organizations around the Gulf of Mexico. One group receiving funds ($1.2 million) was Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to sport fish research in and around Charlotte Harbor.
Charlotte Harbor is a 100-million-dollar fishery, but what keeps that fishery going are mangrove forests that surround the waterway.
“In order to have a thriving fishery we need to have a good nursing habitat for them,” said Courtney Saari, FWC research administrator. “We need to have places for the juvenile snook and tarpon to grow up.”
And those nursery habitats are under threat from increasing development, storm water pollution, and sea level rise due to climate change.
“What we are looking to do is let the fish naturally reproduce, and grow up, and continue to have this amazing fishery that we are known for around the world,” said Saari.
Through the research, FWC is looking to create a vulnerability index for these habitats that developers around Charlotte Harbor can use.
“Looking at how these habitats are vulnerable to development and how the fish are using them and what are the most important ones to conserve or to restore,” said Saari.
She says most of Charlotte Harbor has state protected land around it, but it's the populated areas where this information is critical.
“If you look at a map, you got the canal systems, you got Cape Coral, and Cape Haze, there is development right up to the edge of those reserves,” said Saari. “So that’s where we want to share this information with people.”
One group interested in this research is Charlotte County. FWC will be sharing this data with the County as they put together their 2028 comprehensive plan. But also, it could set a standard gulf wide.
“We could talk to our partner in Louisiana, and maybe we will learn things, or they will learn things from us that could be helpful there as well,” said Saari.