Visitors often remark that Florida’s Historic Coast is different than any other place in the Sunshine State. That’s true in so many ways, but providing a sustainable environment certainly sets it apart from many parts of the state where competing developmental and agricultural agendas tend to put the environment on the back burner. Here, it is always front and center.
In 2021, the City of St. Augustine banned the release of helium-filled balloons and sky lanterns – six months later, St. Johns County adopted a similar ban for Florida’s Historic Coast – the first county in Florida to take this important step to protect coastal marine life. The National Park Service with its innovative Green Parks Plan in place at the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas not only protect today’s environment at these National Monuments, but also addresses the future challenges of climate change and sea level rise. At the same time, state agencies provide guidance and assistance to protecting the beaches that are vital for the survival of sea turtles, shore birds and even the elusive Anastasia beach mouse. The City of St. Augustine Beach takes its environmental stewardship so seriously it even has a Sustainability and Environmental Planning Advisory Committee that does everything from overseeing garden landscaping on public lands to developing environmental educational materials.
The Guana, Tolomato, Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, better known as the GTM, stretches the entire length of Florida’s Historic Coast and is named for the three rivers that tie these 76,760 acres of coastal habitat together.
The GTM is dedicated to the conservation of natural biodiversity and cultural resources and provides science-based stewardship and education strategies. Managed through a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FLDEP), and with the assistance Friends of the GTM Research Reserve, a non-profit citizen organization, there are weekly programs that allow visitors the opportunity to have hands-on learning experiences led by volunteers and scientists.