FLORIDA GULF COAST, UNITED STATES (August 23rd, 2019) – The Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot hugs the state’s west side, spanning from Apalachicola Bay in the north to Ten Thousand Island in the south. The coast is famous for its immense beauty, rich biodiversity and booming local industries that sustain hundreds of thousands of people, and has become a cornerstone for sustainability. Conservationists, local business owners and members of the general public alike have built a culture upon preserving the integrity of the coast’s natural state– and a determination to protect the area’s marine life from threats created by human interference. The home city of this Hope Spot, Dunedin, is especially near and dear to Mission Blue’s heart– this town is where Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, grew up and first fell in love with the ocean. Dr. Earle’s marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue declares the Florida Gulf Coast a Hope Spot in recognition of the action from research programs, conservation projects and educational programs of the several dozen organizations hard at work along the coast to preserve the area’s ecosystems and life within them. To celebrate this momentous recognition, October 25th and 26th, 2019, will be filled with festivities in Dunedin. An evening event on October 25th will be held at the historic Fenway Hotel in Dunedin. Prominent speakers, including Her Deepness, Dr. Sylvia Earle, will talk to a roomful of guests enjoying food from local eateries about the importance of the oceans, the Florida Gulf Coast, and the many on-going efforts to keep it around for generations to come.
Dr. Sylvia Earle says, “A big blue salute to the champions in Florida who have gotten behind the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot. This has special meaning to me because as a kid I fell in love with the ocean right there in Dunedin. The Gulf Coast Hope Spot has now joined more than 100 places around the world where people such as you have stepped up and committed to making a difference.”
Hope Spot Champions Ray Bouchard, Tracy Tippin and Vicki Love, all members of the Board of Directors of Blue-Green Connections say, “The Florida Gulf Coast hosts an incredible diversity of ecosystems and species that need responsible and sustainable actions to ensure it will thrive for generations to come. It is home to almost 100 threatened species! These ecosystems are critical to the economy of the entire state of Florida, and protect both the coastal mainland from storm events and protect the Gulf from adverse human effects.”
Not unlike many areas around the globe, the Florida Gulf Coast faces threats from manmade interference, including offshore drilling, plastic pollution, altered hydrology and the negative effects of a warming climate, including sea level rise. The moratorium of drilling within 225 miles of the coast ends in 2022, and there is a risk that the current federal administration may not renew it. However, the local government and the general populace greatly supports keeping the offshore waters safe from drilling – in November 2018, Amendment 9 keeping drilling out of Florida waters (3-9 miles) passed with 70% of the population’s support.
Thanks to the work of the many organizations involved, including the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, and The Florida Aquarium, the Florida Gulf Coast and the beautiful marine life that thrives along its shores and waters is being protected, cherished and invested in for generations of Floridians and global citizens alike to enjoy its wonders. For example, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and its partners’ efforts have succeeded in recovering more than 40,000 acres of seagrass –exceeding 1950s levels — resulting in both environmental and economic benefits for the region. The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is known for their enriching educational programs, cutting edge research, and rehabilitation programs, and the Florida Aquarium has been instrumental in conservation and education focused on coral rescue, sea turtle rehabilitation and shark & ray research.
Creatures like the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), the endangered scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and hundreds of other species thrive here along Florida’s gulf coast waters.
Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President and CEO, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, declares his support. “Mission Blue’s designation of the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot highlights our region’s ecological importance and biodiversity. Mote Marine Laboratory conducts many research projects within the Hope Spot, including dives to underwater geological formations called blue holes, which may provide invaluable insight into the Gulf’s unique ecosystem. Both Mote’s founder, Dr. Eugenie Clark, and Mission Blue’s founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle worked extensively together in this region, so for us this is a legacy project in every sense as we celebrate our history by protecting the future.”
“Dr. Sylvia Earle is a trailblazer and role model for thousands of young people who come to The Florida Aquarium each year,” remarks Roger Germann, CEO, “This Hope Spot designation brings her message and her work to the Gulf Coast and reminds us that this scientific legend was inspired by the same waters we call home.”
Ray, Tracy, and Vicki of Blue-Green Connections credit overwhelming support from a broad array of supporters from across the region for the successful designation of the Hope Spot. And truly it is extensive and diverse – the supporters include scientific and educational organizations, conservation groups, businesses, governmental officials, and many individuals.
Ed Sherwood, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, says “The recent designation of the Florida Gulf Coast as a Mission Blue Hope Spot is a true win for our region. Globally significant coastal ecosystems – such as oysters, seagrass, mangroves, salt marshes, freshwater springs and wetlands important to both the environmental and economic quality of our region will benefit greatly.”
Day two of the launch event (October 26th, 2019) will include a myriad of events in downtown Dunedin. There will be a scientific pub crawl in which scientists and other organizations/individuals active in water sustainability discuss their research and work at the microbreweries in Dunedin. There will be a family-friendly event with hands-on activities for children as well as other activities, such as a scavenger hunt and poker run that include local businesses.
Dr. Earle says, “In the next 500 years, people can look back and say ‘thank you’ for bringing hope to the Gulf Coast. This is a moment in time where we have to take this knowledge that has been gained and to realize that all of us will win if all of us can restore health and keep it that way for generations to come.”
About Mission Blue
Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas –Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About Blue-Green Connections
Blue-Green Connections, a nonprofit organization based in Dunedin, was formed in May of 2019 as a result of work done to nominate the waters of the Florida Gulf Coast as a Hope Spot. The Florida Gulf Coast hosts an immense variety of diverse coastal and marine habitats forming a massive interconnected ecosystem, including mangrove forests, seagrass beds, salt marshes, barrier islands, oyster beds, and blue holes which support a spectacular array of marine wildlife and shore birds. Using the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot as our initial project and rallying point, Blue-Green Connections works with its many partners to educate, understand, and support sustainable use of this precious resource. This is accomplished through educational sessions, facilitating volunteer activities to support restoration, research, and clean-up activities, and actively fostering collaboration.
About Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, based in Sarasota, has conducted marine research on Florida’s Gulf Coast since our founding as a small, one- room shark laboratory in 1955. Since then, Mote has grown to over 20 research and conservation programs that span the spectrum of marine science: aquaculture systems that alleviate growing pressures on wild fish populations; red tide research that works to inform the public and mitigate the adverse effects of red tide with innovative technologies; marine animal conservation and rehabilitation programs that protect animals such as sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins; and much more. Much of this work is based in the unique environment of the Gulf of Mexico, and the new Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot will bring awareness to the region that Mote Marine Laboratory calls home.
About the Tampa Bay Estuary Program
The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) is one of 28 National Estuary Programs designated by US Congress to restore and protect “estuaries of national significance.” The program is administered by the US EPA under the Clean Water Act and is directed to develop and implement a scientifically sound, community based plan to protect and enhance the Tampa Bay estuary and its surrounding watershed. TBEP’s latest plan is focused on three core themes: 1) improving water and sediment quality; 2) enhancing habitats for the benefit of fish and wildlife; and 3) promoting an informed, engaged and responsible community in the Bay’s restoration and protection activities. The Program’s recent accomplishments, as well as, the current “State of the Bay” have been highlighted in the recent report here: http://stateofthebay.tbep.org .
About The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium, is located in Downtown Tampa, with a Center for Conservation dedicated to research and rehabilitation in Apollo Beach. Opened in 1995, The Florida Aquarium has welcomed over 16 million guests and has frequently been ranked as one of the nation’s top Aquariums. As a not-for-profit organization, the mission of The Florida Aquarium is to entertain, educate and inspire the stewardship of the natural environment. The Florida Aquarium leads the way in coral research and rescue and recently opened a state-of-the-art Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center, with one of the state’s deepest turtle-exclusive dive pool. With over 14,000 animals in their care, The Florida Aquarium works to protect and restore the Blue Planet for the next generation and beyond.
About Pinellas County
Pinellas County has over 500 miles of coastline, all within the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot. The county performs many activities to support healthy waters. County activities include monitoring environmental health of the waters and habitats and overseeing beach management activities such as nourishment that provides critical sea turtle nesting and shorebird nesting habitat, providing funding and materials for dune planting and walkovers, supporting a sea turtle monitoring program, and working with the beach communities to reduce light pollution during sea turtle nesting season.
About the City of Dunedin
The city of Dunedin is the childhood home of Dr. Sylvia Earle. “The City of Dunedin is thrilled about the designation of the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot. Dunedin is a community that is uniquely invested in our coast as we are one of the few open waterfront communities on the west coast of Florida. The Gulf Coast provides environmental health benefits, a place for recreation, significant cultural values, as well as economic value through eco-tourism. As this beloved resource becomes a designated place for education, research and protection, the City of Dunedin, our residents and visitors will continue to learn more about our largest natural resource and how to become better stewards to this area and to continue to be a premier coastal community. As part of our city’s EPIC! Goals, we will continue to support and foster actionable strategies that provide enhanced protection to our resources.”