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Water: Estuaries and Coastal Watersheds

Charlotte Harbor (NEP Profile)

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Summary Information

Year Established: 1995
Location: Florida
Area of Watershed: 12,653 square kilometers

Priority Management Issues:
conventional pollutants
human population growth
habitat loss/alteration
species loss/decline
introduced/pest species
problems with the quantity of freshwater inflow
red/brown tides
insufficient /polluted/saline drinking water
hydrologic alteration

Major Habitat Types:
submerged aquatic vegetation (sea grass)
reefs (artificial)
barrier islands/sand bars
lagoon/shallow open water
shellfish growing areas
beach/dune (vegetated)
sand/mud/salt flats
tidal pools
salt/brackish marsh
freshwater marsh (non-tidal)
forested wetland
seasonal wetland
freshwater lakes/ponds
grass/open field
non-wetland forest
riparian/riverine (forested, tidal, & floodplain)
abandoned agricultural
ranching land
reclaimed mining land

Federally Endangered or Threatened Species:
Gulf sturgeon
Audubon's crested caracara
Bachman's warbler
bald eagle
Everglade snail kite
Florida grasshopper sparrow
Forida scrub jay
ivory billed woodpecker (probably extinct)
piping plover
red-cockaded woodpecker
wood stork
American alligator
American crocodile
Atlantic green sea turtle
Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle
Atlantic loggerhead turlte
blue-tailed mole skink
eastern indigo snake
Kemp's (Atlantic) ridley sea turtle
leatherback sea turtle
sand skink
Florida panther
West Indian manatee
Avon Park harebells
beautiful pawpaw
Britton's beargrass
Carter's mustard
clasping warea
Florida bonamia
Florida golder aster
Florida perforate cladonia (deer moss)
Florida ziziphus
highlands scrub hypericum
Lewton's polygala
papery whitlow-wort
pigeon wing
Pigmay fringe tree
scrub blazing star
scrub buckwheat
scrub lupine
scrub plum

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Overviews and Highlights

Located on the west coast of peninsular Florida, Charlotte Harbor is the second largest open water estuary in the state. The basins of the Peace, Myakka, and Caloosahatchee Rivers (almost 4,500 square miles) feed freshwater into the coastal area. In southwest Florida, barrier islands and coastal waters such as Lemon Bay, Matlacha Pass, Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, and Estero Bay are supplied with freshwater from those three rivers and nearby areas. The Charlotte Harbor estuary and contiguous coastal waters serve as a home, feeding ground and/or nursery area for more then 270 species of of resident, migrant, and commercial fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. Manatees, sea turtles, wood storks, and dolphins are also found in the estuary and its watershed. This estuarine system and its watershed are both directly and indirectly a vitally important economic asset to the Florida suncoast. This NEP's addition to the program was announced on July 6, 1995.

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program challenges local communities to address water quality, wildlife habitat loss, land use changes, and human-induced changes to river flows to protect uses of the estuary. The population within the watershed is projected to reach 1.7 million by the year 2010, a 337 percent increase over the 1970 census. This rapid growth has already radically changed the character and ecology of river mouth and coastal waters. Mangroves have been removed or cut back, red tide events cause public health warnings, seagrass areas have declined or been damaged, and groundwater pumping has reached its maximum limit. Despite these impacts, the main body of Charlotte Harbor and its adjacent estuarine systems are in comparatively good condition.

To maintain this quality, these pressures must be addressed to prevent further threats to natural systems and to protect current uses of resources. The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program is building on current efforts to maintain and enhance the estuary system. Emphasis is on taking immediate actions where the problems are known, while filling in gaps in the knowledge of emerging problems. The Charlotte Harbor NEP is committed to developing a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) in three years based on the completion of previous problem identification and characterization work, and successful consensus-building activites within the region.

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