Florida State University and Bay County are partnering to establish an estuary program to help provide for the long-term protection of St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays and develop a plan of action for these valuable resources.
Housed on the FSU Panama City campus, the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program will be modeled after the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program and is funded by The Nature Conservancy, Bay County, Florida State University Panama City and the Florida State University Consensus Center.
“This is a legacy project for the County Commission, FSU Panama City and our local governments,” said Bay County Commissioner Philip “Griff” Griffitts. “We will all work together to manage a valued, shared resource that no local government or organization can manage on its own. This is permanent good coming out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
Like similar regional programs in Florida, the goal is to establish a sustainable community-driven estuary program which first requires building community consensus. This will help develop and implement a comprehensive conservation management plan for the restoration and preservation of the area’s estuary system.
The plan aims to align conservation with economic priorities and implement strategies to improve the bays and monitor outcomes and will be informed by scientific research. It will be adaptable and involve representatives from a broad range of stakeholder groups.
“There is no way to overstate the importance of St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays,” said Randy Hanna, Dean of FSU Panama City. “They are integral to the lives of those who live here and those who visit. Likewise, they are vital to our social, ecological, recreational and economic well-being and it is imperative that we collectively work to restore and protect our bays. We are so honored to partner with Bay County, The Nature Conservancy and the FSU Consensus Center on this very important program.”
St. Andrew Bay, a 69,000-acre estuary, is one of the most biologically diverse bays in North America and St. Joseph Bay has the richest and most abundant concentrations of marine grasses along the Northwest Florida coast. The bays are also an essential resource to area maritime and naval operations as well as tourism.
“The St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays watershed is vital to the health and well-being of the region’s natural ecosystem and economic development, which is why The Nature Conservancy has committed $1 million and is partnering with Bay County and Florida State University on the development of a new estuary program,” said Temperince Morgan, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “This program will help ensure that funds from the Deepwater Horizon settlement and beyond are used to make the greatest, lasting conservation impact for Florida’s estuaries.”
The first phase of the program’s launch, expected to span into 2021, will be to establish a policy board, management council and committees and select a director and administrative staff. Board and council participants will reflect a multi-jurisdictional collaborative effort among Bay, Gulf, Washington, Walton, Calhoun and Jackson counties and the cities within the bays’ watershed.
“The creation of the St. Andrew and St. Joseph Bays Estuary Program and others in the Florida Panhandle is a testament to the commitment of local communities to protect the invaluable nature of the region,” said Andrea Graves, Marine Project Coordinator at The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Thanks to the combined knowledge and resources of these stakeholder-driven programs, we can expect to see a stronger economy and healthier bay systems with improved water quality, restored fish and wildlife habitat, and increased resilience to storms and other climate impacts.”