New Report Card for Florida’s Coasts & Ocean: Making Progress, But Not There Yet

Florida's coast and oceans got their report card today.

Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, no state is more dependent on the natural resources of its coastal waters for food, jobs and recreation. The state's huge tourism economy alone generates more than $63 billion a year and hundreds of thousands of jobs - and their success relies on clean coasts and healthy oceans.

The health of Florida's economy is strongly tied to the health of its beaches, dunes, fish populations, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, wetlands and other natural resources. For these reasons, this report card is particularly important right here, right now - in Florida and in these tough economic times.

The report card - released by a group of environmental organizations called the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition (NRDC is a member) - evaluated the state's progress on a range of coastal and ocean issues, and graded their progress in each area during 2007 and 2008. The grades were based off how well the state has done in implementing a list of recommendations from a 2006 report released by the coalition that aimed to help the state to improve the ocean and coastal resources that fuel Florida's economy and shape its identity ("Florida's Coastal and Ocean Future: A Blueprint for Economic and Environmental Leadership").

The report card broke down Florida's progress in a variety of areas:

  • Reducing global warming pollution: A-
  • Protecting vulnerable marine species: B
  • Ensuring robust fisheries: B-
  • Curbing unwise coastal development: C+
  • Reducing coastal and ocean pollution: C+
  • Keeping offshore drilling away from Florida's coasts: D
  • Restoring marine ecosystems: D
  • Strengthening ocean governance: D

Overall - the state got a "C."

As you can see, some areas are faring better than others. You can read about why each area got the grade it did in the report itself here.

There is reason for Floridians to be heartened and encouraged - we're seeing growing responsiveness from state government. Governor Charlie Crist and the state legislator have made progress on a range of ocean policies. The governor has developed a plan to counter climate change, supported restoring funds for Florida Forever, stood up for manatees, vetoed a weak seagrass bill and fought for stronger seagrass legislation.  The legislature passed a bill to phase out significant ocean sewer outfalls, a Clean Oceans bill, and a measure that ensures better management of inlets.

At the same time, it is clear there is much more work to be done and the urgency to carry it out is only growing. Some of the big ones are:

  • Adopt strong stormwater rules and legislation notifying the public of sewage overflows
  • Protect coral reefs in Biscayne National Park from overfishing
  • Re-instate the moratorium on offshore drilling to protect Florida's east coast
  • Create an executive ocean and coastal policy office
  • Develop criteria for marine protected areas & reserves

The longer we wait to address these problems, the more difficult and expensive they will be to fix later.

The take away message is that Florida is making steady progress, but it can do better.  By following the steps outlined in this report card, we can help change the forecast for Florida's oceans and coasts, and protect the state's economy, environment and ways of life for generations to come.

Florida has an opportunity to be a bold leader and set a national example for healthy ocean and coastal resources. My hope is that they rise to the occasion and raise the bar.