Which areas of Florida are currently under critical concern protection?

JoAnn Ryan

With a current population of 22 million people, it may be difficult for anyone living in present day Florida to imagine there were only around 2.5 million people living in the entire state in 1949.

By 1972 however, just 23 years later, the population had tripled in size to around 7.5 million people.

Sunset Key, FloridaPhoto byMark MaleonUnsplash

During the tenure of popular Florida governor Reubin Askew, legislators rightly saw where the future of Florida was headed and decided certain areas of land should be protected from rapid urbanization. This led to the passing of the Florida Environmental Land and Water Management Act of 1972.

"The program is intended to protect resources and public facilities of major statewide significance" and is currently being applied to four regions within the state in order to assist in monitoring such things as natural habitats, economic viability, soil disruption, natural water flow and beauty.

Big Cypress Area

Portions of Collier, Mainland Monroe and Miami-Dade Counties: area map.

Cypresses growing along SR 94 (Loop Road)Photo byDaniel Di Palma (Creative Commons)

Protection of this 860,000 acre area in South Florida began with the Big Cypress Conservation Act of 1973, as the land is rich in flora, fauna and wildlife like lush mangroves, orchids, alligators, panthers, birds, deer, bobcats, etc.

Historically, the region has been inhabited by indigenous people for thousands of years, however, the land also proved desirable for new settlers from European nations. This resulted in the overhunting of herons, egrets, alligators and crocodiles and the overdevelopment of land via railroads, oil exploration and an aborted plan for an international airport.

Today, this area remains a source of concern as people debate over fair use by hunters, farmers, hikers, campers and developers. Alongside conservation advocates, descendants of indigenous groups of people, such as the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida continue to fiercely protect the region to this very day.

Green Swamp Area

Northern Polk and southern Lake Counties: area map.

Green high swamp grass in water landscapePhoto byPublic Domain

This area located just west of the Orlando-Kissimmee greater metropolitan area consists of 322,690 acres of protected land. It was designated as the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern in 1974 predominately in order to preserve safe drinking water for Florida.

Four major rivers meet here, the Withlacoochee, Oklawaha, Peace and Hillsborough Rivers, and the Floridan Aquifer reaches its highest level here as well due to being perfectly situated to collect rainwater in order to replenish the aquifer.

Many trails throughout this area offer a great place for hiking, biking and viewing wildlife.

The Florida Keys and Key West

Monroe County: Florida Keys area map, Key West area map.

Key West, FloridaPhoto byJametlene ReskponUnsplash

The Florida Keys have been a source of critical concern and debate for many years due to the region's limited size and huge popularity, along with factors of fair use, economy and climate vulnerability.

Keeping ocean water clean and protecting distinctive at-risk species of plants and animals, such as the Key deer, is essential, as well as monitoring hurricane loss.

Monroe county is among several areas of Florida affected by home buyout programs in order to move at-risk residents to places of increased safety on a volunteer basis.

Apalachicola Bay Area

Franklin County: area map.

Apalachicola BayPhoto byKirsten MilesonUnsplash

Apalachicola Bay is located in the panhandle region of Florida not far from the state capital in Tallahassee. Historically, this first became a protected area in 1985 due to its biodiversity and importance as both a drainage system via the Apalachicola River into the Gulf of Mexico and its economic importance in seafood production.

This region has been a source of heated debate for many years between Florida, Georgia and Alabama, resulting in the Tri-State Water Wars, as the three states continue to fight over who gets their fair share of water rights. More water being reserved in Georgia, for instance, means less water for Florida's oyster production, which has already been greatly threatened by climate change.

In subsequent years, this area of critical concern has shrunk to include just a small area of designated land, although much of the surrounding region is already being managed or preserved by state and federal authorities.

What do you think of Florida's Area of Critical Concern Program and have you been affected by it?

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I love to write about things that fascinate people. Politically speaking, I'm proudly independent.

Orlando, FL

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