History | Preserving Our Waters | WGCU
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History

How Florida’s System of Aquatic Preserves Came About

In all started in the 1950s, when fisherman Bill Mellor helped lead citizens in Lee County to create the Lee County Conservation Association.

“That was when we first heard this proposal to come in and turn all of Estero Bay into a city of about 8 or 9,000 people,” said Mellor, who visited the bay for the first time in 1937. “Back then, the water was beautifully clear and the fish in here were just unlimited.”

At one point, the LCAA members represented more than 50 percent of the registered voters in Lee County. But, not everyone was in favor of preserving the waters. Private land owners and developers who had purchased land wouldn’t be able to move forward with plans to clear mangroves and build waterfront development.

The state opened the discussion up to the public, which supported the preservation of the pristine estuaries and their mangrove fringe. Here are some of the key events that preserved coastal estuaries and buffer zones that may have otherwise been developed with seawalls and highrises.

  • February 1966 - The state of Florida holds a public hearing to discuss establishing “10,000 acres of submerged land in Estero Bay for the perpetual use of the public,” as proposed by the LCAA. (Read transcription of the public hearing.)
  • Dec. 8, 1966 - Based on the success of public input, the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve is dedicated through the Internal Improvement Fund of Florida, headed by Gov. Haydon Burns. (Read the dedication document.)
  • 1968 -  The Florida Inter-Agency Advisory Committee on Submerged Land Management proposes “A System of Aquatic Preserves” to protect submerged tidal lands throughout the state of Florida. That proposal identified 18 aquatic preserves. (Read the proposal.)
  • 1975 - The legislative approves a proposal to set up a statewide system of 41 aquatic preserves. (Read the enabling legislation.

Water Preservation

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'The Water...Glitters and Sparkles Like Diamonds'

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With the hopes of establishing a "New Jerusalem" on the banks of the Estero River, members of the Koreshan Unity traversed the waters of Estero Bay and travelled up the Estero River in the late 1800s. Here's an excerpt from a letter written on Feb. 25, 1894, from C.S. Baldwin to E.A. Graham from the Koreshan Unity Settlement. The description refers to the waters of the Estero River and Estero Bay.

"The fish are seen by the phosphorescent light they make as they dart through the water. It is a beautiful spectacle to sail upon the water at night — equal to Fourth of July fire-works. The phosphorescent light the oars make displacing the water, is fine. As you look into the water in its quietness, from off the boat, it glitters and sparkles like diamonds. It is hard to describe the beauties to be seen; the darker the night, the finer the display."

Click here to read the full letter, which appeared in the American Eagle, October 1978.

Submitted by FGCU Prof. Lyn Millner, author of The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult, a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet, published by the University Press of Florida.