Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Sarasota Bay is approximately 56 miles long and is fed by a watershed of 455 square miles. It is a coastal lagoon formed by a chain of barrier islands to the west and Manatee and Sarasota Counties on the mainland to the east. Its north south boundaries are Anna Maria Sound and Venice Inlet respectively.
Sarasota Bay is a complex system of embayments, tidal tributaries, small creeks, coves, inlets, and passes coupled with its average depth of only 6.5 feet. Its watershed is heavily developed and supports 600,000 people.
A complicating feature is Sarasota's embayments, each of which operates as a unique ecosystem--Palma Sola Bay, Sarasota Bay proper, Roberts Bay, Little Sarasota Bay, and Blackburn Bay. These are, in turn, fed by creeks and streams including include Bowlees Creek, Whitaker Bayou, Hudson Bayou, Phillippi Creek, Catfish Creek, North Creek, and South Creek that bring its own load of polluted stormwater runoff from agriculture, and residential and commerical development to its respective bay. This non-point source pollution is the biggest problem facing the bay today. This is exacerbated by the fact that each bay differs from the others in overall size, shape, water depth, shoreline features, habitat, and sediment characteristics, resulting in significant differences in water circulation, freshwater inputs, nutrient loads, and other variables that impact water quality and wildlife. These variations require analysis and remediation of non-point source pollution and other impacts must be handled independently.
The Sarasota Bay estuary is home to more than 1,400 native species of diverse plants and animals that live in mangrove swamps, saltwater marshes, tidal flats, seagrass beds, inter-tidal and ocean waters, hard bottom (coral and rock) and soft bottom substrates (sand and mud) as well as upland beach dunes and maritime forests.This exceptional biodiversity and climate make it a mecca for eco-tourism and sportfishing.
Charismatic species abound including Bottlenose Dolphin, Short-Finned Pilot Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Northern Right Whale, and Florida Manatee. Coveted sportfish include Sailfish, Great Barracuda, Tarpon, King Mackerel, Atlantic Croaker, Atlantic Spadefish, Spanish Mackerel, Permit, Sheepshead, Cobia, Amberjack, Black Sea Bass, Rock Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Crevalle Jack, and Gag Grouper. It also shelters Diamondback Terrapin, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, Leatherback Sea Turtle, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles. During the summer months, Bay beaches are nesting grounds for the largest population of threatened loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. These turtles share the beaches with nesting snowy plovers, Wilson’s plovers, least terns and black skimmers. In addition, multiple species of heron and egrets as well as the Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, peregrine falcon, osprey, bald eagle, and countless others draw birders from around the world. There are hundreds of other smaller species in this rich ecosystem, many of which our Southeast Chapter volunteers have documented and posted on our web site.
Here we focus on restoring coastal habitat and educating the public about the bay's exceptional resources and human impacts on them. Our most recently completed project is Palmer’s Point, a 33-acre bayside site owned by Sarasota County. We connect residents and tourists with the Bays wildlife and habitats on the land and on the water through eco-tours aboard the Carefree Learner, a pontoon boat equipped with marine science equipment and staffed by experts and by Kayak, connecting residents and tourists with habitat and wildlife accessible only by water.