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Apalachicola Bay, You’ve Got a Friend in Ocean Conservancy

Defending Florida’s marine environment from misregulated freshwater

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© Forrest Granger/Florida Memory

Everybody needs a friend. When you’re feeling low, you need someone who gets you, who can listen to what’s troubling you and make it all better with a gentle smile, a knowing nod and a warm embrace.

During the tumultuous times over the past year, when we’ve encountered so much grief and so much loss, many of us have realized that the warmest embrace comes from one of the best friends we’ve ever had: our ocean. We turn to the water when we need relief from the sorrows and troubles of the modern world. We sail, surf, fish, swim, dive—we play in these vibrant ocean waters, and we feel nourished and restored as if we have been hugged by a beloved companion. The ocean is our friend.

As a Florida kid growing up practically immersed in saltwater, I have known of the ocean’s friendship for as long as I can remember. Long, hard day at school? Go to the beach and surf—forget about it. Parents just don’t understand? Go to the lagoon and go fishing—forget about it. Bored? Get out on the water and have fun!

But friendship is a two-way street. Sometimes our ocean needs a friend too. That’s where Ocean Conservancy comes in.

Just this month, I am so proud to have been able to work on behalf of Ocean Conservancy’s Florida Program and our Legal Affairs team to step up as amicus curiae in a lawsuit aimed at protecting Florida’s iconic Apalachicola Bay.

An amicus curiae, or friend of the court, intervenes in existing litigation to present a perspective on an issue that is not explicitly being raised by the other parties to a suit. The amicus is a friend who gives a voice to something that is voiceless, which is really important because the outcome of the lawsuit could have a great impact on the voiceless party.

In this case, some groups have sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a failure to properly regulate freshwater inputs into the Apalachicola River that originates upstream in the Chattahoochee and Flint River systems in Georgia and Alabama. Without properly regulated freshwater flowing through the Apalachicola River and down into Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle, there are far-reaching and disastrous implications for Florida’s ocean environment.

A healthy Apalachicola Bay is a critically important nursery for offshore fish in the Gulf of Mexico, such as economically and culturally significant gag grouper. Apalachicola Bay was historically home to one of the most important oyster fisheries in the United States. It is also home to more than 300 species of birds and more than 180 species of fish. These ecosystems are critically dependent on a constant supply of clean, fresh water, mixing with saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico in a giant, teeming lagoon—but when the freshwater is diverted upstream, these ecosystems suffocate, and the downstream impacts are tragic. Late in 2020, for example, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission made the extremely difficult (but extremely wise from a conservation perspective) decision to close the legendary Apalachicola oyster fishery for a period of five years to attempt to allow it to recover after being ravaged by a lack of freshwater inputs into the bay.

Ocean Conservancy has stepped up to be a friend to Apalachicola Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and our ocean, and to point out to the court that upstream decisions in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint System can have tragic impacts on marine resources.

Florida is an ocean state; it is surrounded on three sides by wild, yet revitalizing, waters, and these unique waters make it a special place for Floridians, such as myself, as well as for the millions of visitors who flock to the state every year. Florida’s ocean needs preservation—and I am glad to step up and be there for my friend.

Read more about our involvement in the National Wildlife Federation v. U.S. Army Corps lawsuit.

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