Post Thanksgiving: I’m Still Thankful, Especially for Florida

panorama of beach
The view along the coastal highway of Florida. NWF photo by Robyn Fischer.

It has become a Fischer family tradition to spend Thanksgiving holiday in Daytona, Florida—I’m not too sure what palm trees and the beach have to do with turkey day, but my grandparents live there, and my family hates cold weather, so this is what we do.

The morning of my departure, as my wonderful father poured me a much needed cup of coffee, I announced I had to visit the ocean one more time before I returned to my concrete jungle. I ran down to the beach just as the sun crested above the horizon. I took a deep breath of the fresh, ocean air, listened to the waves crashing on the sand, and watched the seagulls fly above. In that moment I realized how thankful I was to have the opportunity to visit such a place and see nature at its finest.

sunrise in Ormond
Sunrise over Ormond Beach. NWF photo by Robyn Fischer.
In that moment I was aware of the precious wildlife and habitat, how the area is a haven for sportsmen and women, and the beautiful coastline. Call me a nerd, call me a workaholic, call me maybe?—whatever the case, I was absolutely captivated.

When I was a child my father and I used to drive along the coast and just stare longingly at the ocean. Sometimes we’d drive a bit inland to the vastly different world of wetlands and bald cypress trees. I saw cranes, alligators, and Southern live oak laced ever so gracefully with Spanish moss. However, as a child I never quite understood the importance of these natural places, and the need to protect them.

Now flash forward to this year’s trip. My brother and I made it a practice to go to the beach every day, where we saw people swimming, surfing, fishing, and at night groups of children with buckets in hand went searching for sand crabs. There were seagulls and piping plovers, in fact one night there was a horrendous storm and the next morning we found jellyfish washed on shore. I saw a place that was home to bountiful wildlife and an ideal recreation area.

Protect All of Florida’s Waters

Daytona is along the eastern side of Florida and faces the Atlantic Ocean. My former colleague is from Naples along the Gulf Coast and we constantly argue about which side is better – the longstanding east coast versus west coast debate. But similar to the Biggie/Tupac battle, this should not be an argument about which is coast is better, but rather we should appreciate that both are fantastic in their own way.

Florida provides a home  to charismatic wildlife, and its tourism and recreation contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. From the Everglades to the Apalachicola River, from the St. Johns River to the Pensacola Bay, it is of the utmost importance to protect these critical areas. I have come to realize how miraculous Florida’s environment is and that its coasts and inland waters are invaluable—after all these years I finally understand.

But Florida’s waters still face serious challenges: nutrient runoff causing toxic algal blooms, damage to the Gulf coast from the 2010 BP oil spill, dredging of wetlands for agricultural development, and increased hurricanes and sea level rise. However, these problems are not insurmountable.

morning wetlands (flickr_anoldent)
Sunrise over beautiful wetlands. Flickr photo by anoldent.
To combat the devastation from the 2010 oil spill, Congress passed the RESTORE Act which dedicates money from the BP trial to restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation also recently allocated over $15 million for restoration projects in Florida. Congress will also authorize several water projects in Florida, and reauthorize the Everglades Restoration Plan. And state and federal agencies are working to strengthen policies that will limit nutrient runoff and protect crucial wetlands throughout the state.

I am thankful for having the opportunity to visit such a remarkable area and to be able to witness all these glorious natural wonders first hand. 

What waters are you thankful for in your state? Visit the Gulf Restoration Facebook page and let us know!