United States
                           Environmental Protection
       Office of Water
February 2000

   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 south-
   west Florida coast, covering more than 4,400 square miles, incorporat-
   ing 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, die
   watershed includes the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Coastal Venice,
   Lemon Bay, and Estero Bay.  Charlotte Harbor is die nation's 18th
   largest estuarine system and is an important part of the Gulf of Mexico

   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 die watershed as an entire
   system.  Upland areas in the watershed are dominated by agricultural
   activities and phosphate mining, while die coastal areas are more
   urbanized and undergoing rapid population growth.  Maintaining
   water quality, wildlife habitat, and water supplies are concerns through-
   out 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.
         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, inno-
   vative approaches for protecting estuaries and their living resources.

   As part of the demonstration role, the NEP offers fundingfor mem-
   ber 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 approaches basin-wide.
The NEP is managed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA). It currently includes 28 estuaries: Albemarle-Pamlico
Sounds, NC; Barataria-Terrebonne Estuarine Complex, LA;
Bamegat Bay, NJ; Buzzards Bay, MA; Casco Bay, ME; Charlotte
Harbor, PL; 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; New
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.

The rate of development in Charlotte County has been
increasing since the 1940s. This early development led to
large areas of wedands being dredged and filled for resi-
dences. 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 nebnlosus).  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 popula-
tions 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 water-
shed 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 Adantic
     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 forming, phosphate
     mining, vegetable crops, and residential and urban

     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 die 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 part-
nership to improve existing water quality and creating new juve-
nile 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 die seafloor bottom, and provide a habitat for juvenile fish.
Forty volunteers from the Charlotte Harbor Reefs Association
worked full time for nearly four mondis 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 die 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.
Project Objectives
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 odier marine organ-
isms, which filter the water and provide a forage base for certain
species offish.

The Charlotte Harbor project areas were chosen for fish habitat
enhancement for the specific purpose of providing fishermen a
fishing destination.  Much of die 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 shal-
low 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 adja-
cent 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 fish-
ing.  Fishermen and nature lovers alike will be able to enjoy the
large populations offish from these easily accessible piers.
Fisheries habitat enhancement in the east central part of
Charlotte Harbor involved renourishing an already estab-
lished 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 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 compati-
ble 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 deploy-
ment of 500 Reef Balls in three distinctly different environ-
ments 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 pha.se
                             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.
    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 same groups.

    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
    natural resources.

    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.

    Aldiougli die Reef Balls have only recendy been deployed, ongo-
    ing monitoring has provided some initial observations:
       The Reef Balls colonized widi oysters and odier
        marine organisms much more quickly dian
        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 die 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 offish are now attracted to the
       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 of Florida.
                                       Printed on Recycled Paper
     Report Title
     Biological Nutrients Removal Project
     Buttermilk Bay Coliform Control Project
     Georgetown Stormwater Management Project
     Texas Coastal Preserves Project
     Shell Creek Stormwater Diversion Project
     City Island Habitat Restoration Project
     Buzzards Bay "Sep Track" Initiative
     New Options for Dredging in Barataria-Terrebonne
     Coquina Bay Walk at Leffis Key
     "Pilot Project Goes Airborne"
     The National Estuary Program: A Ten-Year Perspective
     Rock Barbs In Oregon's Tillamook Bay Watershed
     The Weeks Bay Shoreline & Habitat Restoration Project
     Evaluation of Shrimp Bycatch Reduction Devices in Texas Coastal Bend Waters
National Estuary Program
Long Island Sound, CT/NY
Buzzards Bay, MA
Delaware Inland Bays, DE
Galveston Bays, TX
Puget Sound, WA
Sarasota Bay, FL
Buzzards Bay, MA
Barataria-Terrebonne Basin, LA
Sarasota Bay, FL
Narragansett Bay, RI
General NEP Discussion
Tillamook Bay, Oregon
Mobile Bay, AL
Corpus Christi, TX
    Evaluating Simple, Cost Effective Solutions for Reducing Stormwater and Urban Runoff Santa Monica, CA
    Bay Scallop Restoration Project in Chincoteague Bay                         Annapolis, MOD
    Clear Creek Wetland Restoration Project                                 Galveston Bay, TX
    The Tampa BayWatch High School Wetland Nursery Program                 Tampa Bay, FL
Publication #
                                         ft For Copies of any of these publications contact:
      National Clearinghouse for Enviroiunentarp^licaltions Telephone:  (513) 489-8190
                                   Facsimile:  (513) 489-8695
                                                           United States
                                                Environmental Protection Agency
                                                      Washington,  DC 20460