|Office of Water
Charlotte Harbor and its major tributaries are located in Florida's
southern central interior and southwestern coast. The Charlotte
Harbor watershed is one of the largest watershed systems on the
southwest Florida coast, covering more than 4,400 square miles,
incorporating three major river basins within southwest Florida.
The Peace and Myakka Rivers flow directly into Charlotte Harbor,
while the Caloosahatchee River connects to Charlotte Harbor through
Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass. In addition to these major
rivers, the watershed includes the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes,
Coastal Venice, Lemon Bay, and Estero Bay. Charlotte Harbor is
the nation's 18th largest estuarine system and is an important
part of the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
There are 23 local governments in the Charlotte Harbor watershed,
including Lakeland, Venice, Fort Myers, and Arcadia. The area is
divided into a number of districts and jurisdictions, creating
significant political challenges in terms of managing the
watershed as an entire system. Upland areas in the watershed are
dominated by agricultural activities and phosphate mining, while
the coastal areas are more urbanized and undergoing rapid
population growth. Maintaining water quality, wildlife habitat,
and water supplies are concerns throughout the region as human
populations grow and land use intensifies. Resolving these issues
requires cooperative management in the private sector and across
all levels of government.
The rate of development in Charlotte County has
been increasing since the 1940s. This early development led to
large areas of wetlands being dredged and filled for residences.
More than 200 miles of navigable canals are now part of the
residential landscape of the metropolitan area along Charlotte
Harbor where the Peace River enters into the harbor.
Charlotte Harbor has important recreational and commercial
fisheries, including important species such as the tarpon
(Megalops atlanticus), snook (Centroponus undecimalis), and
spotted sea trout (Cynoscion nebulosus). Estuarine species are
threatened by loss of vital habitats such as seagrass beds and
fishing pressures. Fisheries habitats can be damaged by boats,
dredging, nutrient overloading, and conversion of wetlands to
upland area. The importance of fish populations to the Charlotte
Harbor system has resulted in efforts to enhance fish habitat,
control damage to seagrass beds, improve water quality and
implement significant restrictions on fishing methods.
Charlotte Harbor is located in sub-tropical climate and its
watershed contains large tracts of undeveloped areas which provide
habitat for a wide array of rare plants and animals. General
characteristics of Charlotte Harbor and its watershed include:
- Several endangered species, including the Florida manatee,
wood stork, Florida panther, and Atlantic loggerhead turtle.
- The current human population of 1.1 million (1997 census) is
expected to grow to 1.65 million by 2020.
- The area supports a wide variety of economic uses such as
tourism, ranching, citrus farming, phosphate mining, vegetable crops,
and residential and urban development.
- More than 275 species of shellfish are found in the Charlotte Harbor
estuaries, including oysters, clams, and scallops. However, large areas are
closed to shell fish harvesting due to bacterial contamination and periodic
red tide events.
- The total coastal population increases by more than 30 percent during
the wintertime, due to seasonal business and vacationing tourists. Total
annual tourism expenditures can exceed $1 billion.
- Recreational fishing is a major attraction in both inland
and coastal areas of the watershed.
The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of
Environmental Protection, Reef Ball Foundation, Inc., and the Charlotte
Harbor Reefs Association formed a partnership to improve existing water
quality and creating new juvenile fishery habitats in these residential
canals, as well as under piers around the mouth of the Peace River and in
the main body of Charlotte Harbor.
The partnership chose to construct and deploy five hundred Reef Balls in
specified areas. Reef Balls are made of concrete, placed on the seafloor
bottom, and provide a habitat for juvenile fish. Forty volunteers from the
Charlotte Harbor Reefs Association worked full time for nearly four months
to construct the concrete modules, using molds donated by the Reef Ball
Foundation, Inc. Three types of sites were chosen for fish habitat improvement
through the introduction of Reef Balls, including existing artificial reefs,
under private docks, and under public piers.
- 210 Reef Balls were placed in groups of three in the
harbor on an existing permitted artificial reef site.
- Homeowners in the residential area of Punta Gorda Isles paid for
the installation of another 180 Reef Balls to be placed under 90
private docks within neighborhood canals.
- Finally, the remainder of the Reef Balls were placed
under piers along the mouth of the Peace River.
The primary objective of the project was to provide more habitat
for fisheries and to improve fishery production in Charlotte
Harbor. In addition to fish habitat enhancement, the Reef Balls
encourage the colonization of oysters and other marine organisms,
which filter the water and provide a forage base for certain
species of fish.
The Charlotte Harbor project areas were chosen for fish habitat
enhancement for the specific purpose of providing fishermen a
fishing destination. Much of the damage to natural spawning
grounds in the Harbor occurs when fishermen traverse seagrass
beds looking for fish. Seagrass beds provide important habitat
for fish by providing shelter and food, and are particularly
important for nursery habitat. Providing fishermen a specific
fishing destination will help to divert fishermen away from
shallow waters and seagrass beds to an easily accessible location
in deep water.
The placement of Reef Balls under the piers at the mouth of the
Peace River in the upper portion of Charlotte Harbor and adjacent
to downtown Punta Gorda, was done to create high quality habitat
and attract fish to these sites. The three piers chosen for the
project extend into the river from two parks along the water and
are heavily used by the public for nature watching and fishing.
Fishermen and nature lovers alike will be able to enjoy the large
populations of fish from these easily accessible piers.
The project was initiated by a group of conservation-minded fishermen who formed the
Charlotte Harbor Reefs Association, Inc., a non-profit corporation. Driven
by the desire to increase the number of fish in Charlotte Harbor, the
group gathered information on how to best accomplish this goal and improve
the aquatic resources of Charlotte Harbor. During the planning phase it
was determined that concrete Reef Balls were the most environmentally
compatible and appropriate type of fishery habitat for the project. With
the support of many fishermen, as well as a number of public and private
organizations, the Association set up a plan of action that included the
construction and deployment of 500 Reef Balls in three distinctly different
environments within Charlotte Harbor.
The Charlotte Harbor Reefs Association sought and obtained funding from a
variety of sources, including the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program
and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In-kind support services
were provide by Reef Balls Foundation, Inc., who donated the molds and
assisted in placing the Reef Balls on site, and the Florida Sea Grant
Extension office provided technical assistance.
The process for obtaining the necessary permits began in July of 1997.
Placing Reef Balls under private docks in dredged canals within the
Punta Gorda Isles residential area was a first of its kind project.
Obtaining permits for this phase required considerable time and effort.
It is expected that the great success of the project will encourage
state agencies to allow this kind of project to be conducted in other
areas of Florida.
Fisheries habitat enhancement in the east central part of Charlotte
Harbor involved renourishing an already established artificial reef.
Once permits and additional funding were obtained for this project, 210
reef balls were added in two phases to a marginally productive reef
created 10 years earlier using construction rubble. The site, located in
a more offshore environment than the other locations chosen for
enhancement, is a mile in length and 150 feet wide, with water depths
ranging from 13 to 16 feet.
The final project involved providing fishery habitat under public piers
where it would be accessible to everyone. Three existing park areas on
the Peace River were selected, and the Reef Balls were recently deployed.
- The project has united many interest groups, organizations and
government agencies in fishery habitat development and enhancement. These
groups included the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida
Sea Grant Extension, Reef Ball Foundation, Inc., Florida Department of
Environmental Protection, and the Charlotte Harbor Reef Association.
Future projects are already being planned which include some of these
- The large group of volunteers, which dedicated many hours, is
responsible for making this fishery habitat project a success. This group
is now more educated about problems in the estuary and the value of its
- Groups in other locations in Florida are interested in creating
artificial fishery habitat under private docks. The response from the
private residences to have Reef Balls placed under docks was overwhelming.
More than 150 waterfront residents were willing to pay for Reef Balls to
be placed under their docks. Not all of the requests could be fulfilled
during this project; sixty of these residents were placed on a waiting
list for future projects.
- Requests for further information regarding this project continue to
come in. The State of Florida is looking at this project as a potential
form of mitigation for wetland projects.
Although the Reef Balls have only recently been deployed, ongoing
monitoring has provided some initial observations:
The Reef Balls colonized with oysters and other marine organisms
much more quickly than expected under the private docks.
- Within weeks of deployment, large numbers of juvenile and adult
fish were utilizing the structures deployed under private docks.
- Water monitoring efforts over the last twelve months around the
Reef Balls under private docks have shown "better than expected"
levels of dissolved oxygen.
- Reef Balls placed in the harbor were colonized quickly, but crab
predation scoured larger organisms. However, regrowth occurred and
different species of fish are now attracted to the area.
- Obtaining permits required considerable time and effort.
The great success of the project has encouraged state agencies
to allow this innovative project to be duplicated in other areas
Estuaries and other coastal and marine waters are national resources
that are increasingly threatened by pollution, habitat loss, coastal
development, and resource conflicts. Congress established the National
Estuary Program (NEP) in 1987 to provide a greater focus for coastal
protection and to demonstrate practical, innovative approaches for
protecting estuaries and their living resources.
As part of the demonstration role, the NEP offers funding for member
estuaries to design and implement Action Plan Demonstration Projects
that demonstrate innovative approaches to address priority problem
areas, show improvements that can be achieved on a small scale, and
help determine the time and resources needed to apply, similar
The NEP is managed by the US. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It currently includes 28 estuaries: Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds, NC;
Barataria-Terrebonne Estuarine Complex, LA; Barnegat Bay, NJ;
Buzzards Bay, MA; Casco Bay, ME; Charlotte Harbor, FL; Columbia River,
OR and WA; Corpus Christi Bay, TX; Delaware Estuary, DE, NJ, and PA;
Delaware Inland Bays, DE; Galveston Bay, TX; Indian River Lagoon, FL;
Long Island Sound, CT and NY; Maryland Coastal Bays, MD; Massachusetts
Bays, MA; Mobile Bay, AL; Morro Bay, CA; Narragansett Bay, RI; Neil,
Hampshire Estuaries, NH; New York-New Jersey Harbor, NY and NJ; Peconic
Bay, NY,; Puget Sound, WA; San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, CA; San Juan
Bay, PR; Santa Monica Bay, CA; Sarasota Bay, FL; Tampa Bay, FL; and
Tillamook Bay, OR.
This publication is available free through the EPA.
Ask for EPA842-F-00-005S at the
National Clearinghouse for Environmental Publications
Copyright ©1995 - 2000,
RBDG, Ltd. all rights reserved.
See brochure page footer for information on patents,
copyrights, trademarks and service marks referenced, but not indicated, on