Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Initiative

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To see the 2013 journal article on the progress being made near Boca Grande, click here.

Mangroves are essential habitats for coastal ecosystems. They provide critical habitat for many species of gamefish and their prey. This is especially true for tarpon, whose juvenile life stage depends upon healthy, shallow mangrove and marsh habitats.  Since healthy fisheries depend upon healthy habitats, especially juvenile habitats, there is an urgent need to protect and restore juvenile tarpon mangrove nursery habitats.

Unfortunately, mangroves are under threat worldwide: globally, approximately 35% of mangroves have been lost, and continue to be lost at a rate of 2% per year; inFlorida, approximately 50% of mangroves have already been lost, and degradation of these habitats continues. Since the amount of available habitat is one of the most important factors in determining population size, the loss of these critical habitats has direct and immediate effects on tarpon, snook, and the fisheries they support.

These juvenile tarpon nursery habitats are likely to be in close proximity to urbanized areas, have already declined in coverage and quality, and are under continuing threat. In the United States, coastal areas comprise approximately 17% of the total land area, and 25% of coastal areas are expected to be developed by 2025 – with more than 50% of the nation’s population living in coastal areas. As coastal human populations continue to increase, coastal ecosystems and the fisheries they support are becoming increasingly stressed due to factors such as habitat loss and degradation.  Therefore, there is an urgent need to protect and restore these critically important habitats.

Even when coastal mangroves and salt marshes are protected, which limits direct impacts from development, much of the uplands have been developed or their freshwater flow patterns altered, thus degrading habitat quality of the adjacent mangrove and marsh habitats.  Thus, although many mangrove habitats don’t appear to have suffered direct damage (i.e., from clearing or dredging), the effects of upland habitat degradation on mangroves are just as damaging.

Juvenile tarpon depend upon shallow, backwater habitats for at least the first year of their lives. Common characteristics include:

  • Mangrove or other fringing vegetation that provides structure and protection from bird predators;
  • A mixture of depths – primarily shallow with some deeper pools for fish to congregate when water levels decrease;
  • Tidal exchange through narrow, shallow passages that keeps predatory fish away;
  • Freshwater inflow;
  • Calm backwaters.

The objectives of the Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Initiative are:

1) Identify appropriate juvenile tarpon habitats for protection and restoration.  

2) Work with NGOs, government agencies, and anglers to protect and restore juvenile tarpon habitats.

3) Conduct an education campaign to promote the value of juvenile tarpon habitat restoration.

Contact us if you would like to give a donation to the Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Program.