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Protecting Florida

Florida Legislative Agenda

As the Florida Legislative session begins in March 2023, Ocean Conservancy is preparing to support and promote a variety of marine conservation issues centered on protecting the Sunshine State’s ocean and coasts.

Water Quality

Increased Protections for Manatees

Ocean Conservancy advocates a program that would permanently protect the manatee, regardless of federal endangered species designations. While the Endangered Species Act is an important tool in the conservation toolkit, Florida legislators should prioritize the local importance of the manatee to Floridians by updating, amending and strengthening the important Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. Updates should include protections for critical manatee habitat, improvements to water quality in manatee sanctuaries, and restoration of seagrass meadows and other habitat critical to manatee health.

A manatee swims in shallow waters

This program should also include increased resources to state agencies for outreach and education to the public on the paramount importance of manatees to the Floridian environment and the state’s tourism economy.

Florida needs to protect its iconic manatee population regardless of what protections flow from Washington.

Ensure Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) and Total Maximum Daily Loads In Place and Enforced for All Florida Waterways

This measure is more important than just increasing funding for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or enhancing spending on compromised waterbodies like the Indian River Lagoon or the Everglades. Florida needs BMAPs in place for all its iconic watersheds. The fact is that right now BMAPs are sorely lacking or simply not in place for critically important watersheds, many of which are not attaining water quality standards. We need BMAPs for Pensacola Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay, Apalachicola Bay, Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Ten Thousand Islands, Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay and so many more.

Elevating spending on Florida water quality is important, but putting our money where our mouth is and actually increasing protections for these essential watersheds will have long-lasting environmental and economic impacts, and we’re running out of time to make these investments. Now is the time for BMAPs to protect watersheds statewide.

Increased Funding for Manatee Recovery

Florida’s manatee population has declined by 25% over the past two years. These gentle giants are dying because they are starving to death—and they are starving to death because their main food source, sea grass, is being lost at a rate of tens of thousands of acres due to compromised water quality. Tallahassee should continue to redouble investments in facilities that rehabilitate manatees and increase the overall statewide capacity for manatee recovery.

Implementation of the Blue-Green Algae Bloom Task Force Recommendations

The state’s Blue-Green Algae Bloom Task Force has provided important recommendations that would reduce the impacts of excessive nutrients on fueling harmful algal blooms that impact human health, compromise property values and result in tremendous fish kills and other impacts to wildlife. While the creation and population of the task force has been a significant step in the right direction, the legislature and the governor need to go a step further and enshrine the recommendations of the task force into law.

Toxic Green Algae

Ultimately, [this law or these laws] must include finding ways to send water south out of Lake Okeechobee, as opposed to through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, but [the law/the laws] must also include reforms regulating surface-water pollution coming from too many nutrients from human-borne sources, including nitrogen and phosphorus. Laws should account for agricultural, residential and municipal sources as well as rehydrating historically altered surface-water flows.

Investments in Water Quality Projects That Impact Florida’s Most Iconic Watersheds

Indian River Lagoon and Everglades investments are sorely needed and will have meaningful impacts, which Ocean Conservancy applauds. But we also want to see more investments in additional iconic watersheds across the state, including, for example, Tampa Bay and Biscayne Bay.

Red Mangroves in Florida

Marine Debris and Plastics

Eliminate the Balloon Release Loophole

Balloons are among the most common items found on Florida’s beaches during Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup®.

They are often made from mylar, plastic, rubber or another material that injures wildlife and fisheries and soils our beaches and mangroves. Balloons end up all over the state, from cattle pastures to our reefs, and they impact everything from manatees to saltwater fisheries to agriculture.

Currently, Floridians are allowed to release up to nine balloons for any reason. This needs to stop.

The legislature should definitively close this loophole by repealing the law that currently allows Floridians to release up to nine balloons. In addition, the state should invest in educational programs that highlight why such releases are bad for Florida’s environment, bad for our beaches and bad for fish and other marine life.

Restore Power to Local Governments by Eliminating the Ban on Bans for Single-use Plastics—Or Mandate a State Ban on Single-use Plastics

Floridians know what’s best for their communities, and that’s why the concept of home rule has been so essential in the development of the state. What’s important in Key West isn’t necessarily what’s important in Jacksonville, Miami or Orlando; the state has a variety of hyperlocal values, and local governments should be allowed to decide what works for their communities, especially when it comes to the regulation of single-use plastic items like bags, straws, utensils and takeaway containers.

These items have huge impacts on the quality and health of state beaches, which account for tens of millions of dollars annually for the state’s GDP. It is incumbent on the legislature to protect the Floridian economy, and undergird it with a healthy environment, by taking every action to ensure our beaches remain clean.

Common sense dictates that in order to conserve the health of our beaches, local governments should be empowered to regulate the types of debris that shows up in their backyards. That necessarily means restoring their power to regulate single-use plastic items. If the legislature is disinclined to restore this power to local governments, then the legislature itself should act to protect Florida’s beaches and regulate single-use items.

Enhance the Public’s Awareness of the Impacts of Marine Debris and Plastics on the Floridian Environment and Economy

Floridians need to be made aware of issues pertaining to how waste is managed in the state and how plastics and other debris that leak into the water and the environment from the waste management systems negatively impacts the iconic Floridian environment. In addition, government leaders and all residents need to understand—and call for—product circularity, a sustainable practice that ensures the product material is reused in the supply chain rather than going into a landfill.

The state legislature should invest in education and outreach programs that will facilitate the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies in educating the public about the perils of plastics and the impacts these materials and systems have on Floridian ecosystems and the economy.


Blue Economy Investments

Florida can lead the nation by continuing to undertake efforts to understand the impacts of a changing climate on the state’s economy and by investing in innovative approaches to both adapt to and mitigate against a changing climate and rising seas. These efforts should include dramatically increasing investments in habitat protections and restoration, especially of ecosystems like seagrasses, mangroves, coral reefs and dunes. These types of habitats not only provide important coastal buffering services which are important in the face of increasingly frequent and severe tropical weather, but they also act as carbon sinks by helping sequester carbon from the atmosphere and mitigating against a changing climate.

A salt water flooding sign sits on a road

With the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, Florida is uniquely poised to lead the way on investments in the Blue Economy, but the time is now to take up the reins and lead. The legislature should invest in projects that cement Florida’s positioning as a Blue-Economy and blue-green carbon leader.

Addressing Climate Gentrification and Disproportionate Impacts of Sea Rise on Marginalized Communities

The permanent creation of the state’s Chief Resilience Office has been a welcomed change in Tallahassee. Creating this office demonstrates much promise for making progress in the face of a changing climate. The legislature should further empower this office to undertake studies to better understand the disproportionate impacts of climate change on socially and economically marginalized communities in Florida. With a clearer understanding of how rising seas, increasingly more frequent and severe tropical weather and excessively hot working conditions affect communities of color more dramatically than others.

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