Panama City Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America


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Bays and Estuaries


Bays are large coastal waters connected by inltet tothe open sea. Examples include: Apalachicola, St. Andrew, adn Pensacola bays. Bays contribute significantly to Florida's economy, quality of life, and environmental well-being. The health of these water bodies depends on freshwater inflow, preservation of salt marshes and seagrass beds, careful management of adjacent uplands, and the properly regulated harvest of sea life within each bay.

Estuaries are semi-enclosed coastal waterbodies (example, a bay) with open connections to the sea, and within which sea water is measurably diluted by the introduction of fresh water from land drainage. The measurement of sea salts withing the water of an estuary (the salinity) can range from fresh (where a river flows in) to nearly full-strength salinity (where an inlet connects the estuary to the sea). Estuaries provide habitat for a unique assortment of plants and animals.


Biologists and sturgeon

Species found in bays and estuaries

The gulf sturgeon is an ancient fish, first appearing 225 million years ago, according to fossil records. The gulf sturgeon spends most of the year in freshwater, where it reproduces, and migrates to saltwater in the fall. Adult fish are bottom feeders, feeding primarily on invertebrates in the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries. In early spring, the gulf sturgeon return to breed in the river system in which they hatched.

Credit: USFWS

Seagrasses are flowering plants that live under water. Like land plants, seagrasses produce oxygen. They occur in protected bays and lagoons and also in locations along the continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida’s estimated 502,000 acres of seagrasses are important natural resources that perform many significant functions, one of which is to serve as nursery areas for much of Florida’s important recreational and commercial marine life.

  Turtle Grass
Credit: Hildreth Cooper

The Panama City field office has implemented several strategies to restore and conserve seagrass acreage. Learn more about our Coastal Program.




Last updated: April 17, 2018