The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded Bonefish & Tarpon Trust a $250,000 grant to restore degraded coastal habitat in southwest Florida. The NFWF grant will provide funding for the final design and permitting of two mangrove restoration projects at Shell Island Road and Marco Shores Lake in Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Collier County, Florida.
“BTT appreciates NFWF’s continued support of these vital projects,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT president and CEO. “Our work with partners RBNERR and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will restore natural hydrology to over 1,000 acres of vulnerable mangrove and marsh habitat, enhancing juvenile sportfish habitat and increasing coastal resilience for local communities.”
NFWF, with matching funds from the state of Florida, provided previous grant support to begin the initial restoration planning at these sites, which will be completed by the end of 2023. With the new grant, BTT and its partners will complete the final design for restoration and the permitting necessary for construction to begin.
Rookery Bay’s mangroves and salt marshes act as buffers against storms and sea level rise and are nursery habitats for economically valuable sportfish. But the coastal habitats in Collier County, including within the RBNERR, have been impacted by alterations in hydrology and vegetation due to development and channelization of natural river and tidal creek systems.
“In addition to bolstering southwest Florida’s coastal resilience, the Shell Island Road and Marco Shores Lake restoration projects will improve Rookery Bay’s nursery habitat for juvenile tarpon and snook, which support the state’s saltwater recreational fishery, worth more than $13 billion annually,” said JoEllen Wilson, BTT’s juvenile tarpon habitat program manager.
The work by BTT and its partners in Rookery Bay follows a previously completed restoration project at Coral Creek, where BTT, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership, and Southwest Florida Water Management District partnered to restore juvenile tarpon habitat. At the site, BTT designed and tested multiple habitat restoration models, which can be applied to other areas in need of restoration. BTT has also engaged with the local angling community to identify and map critical juvenile tarpon habitat to prioritize for conservation and restoration. In October, BTT and partners received a NOAA RESTORE grant to conserve juvenile sportfish habitat in Charlotte Harbor.
“As a long-time resident of southwest Florida and a passionate angler, I appreciate BTT’s commitment to improving water quality, strengthening coastal resilience, and improving sportfish habitat,” said Wayne Meland, a BTT board member. “Through sound science and strong partnerships, BTT is driving meaningful change in the region that will benefit residents today and for years to come.”