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Enhancing Public Access to Florida’s Natural Resources

From sun-soaked beaches to cypress wetlands, from the tropical ecosystems of the Keys to the impenetrable depths of the Everglades, Florida contains a wealth of natural environments. For the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s (FWRI) Information Science and Management Group (IS&M), the challenge is how to best inform the public stakeholder and how to best represent spatial information in a clear and informative way. IS&M’s Boating and Angling Guides and Pier Finder are just two products that assist the public in learning about and exploring the natural ecosystems of Florida.

Since 1992, FWRI has produced a statewide series of educational guides that targets boaters and anglers to inform them about Florida's coastal and marine ecosystems. Each Boating and Angling Guide describes a major bay, estuary, or region. Each Guide contains a map, or several maps, that best display the area’s environmental information and complementary written text. This format appeals to boaters and anglers by explaining the natural world about them, and by informing them about boating and fishing facilities. The maps serve to display the distribution and extent of marine resources, while the written information explains the importance of marine habitats to the health of the marine ecosystem, as well as how boating and angling behavior can impact the environment.

With support from the Sport Fish Restoration Program, FWRI develops these guides through cooperative efforts with county, state, and federal agencies as well local and regional organizations. Most of the information depicted on these guides is derived from the FWRI Marine Resources Geographic Information System database, which is kept as current as possible by FWRI staff. FWRI provides technical support in the form of cartographic layout and design and works with local partners who provide information and secure funding. Even though local partners influence the design and content of the guides, the Guides are all part of a single series. Each one is unique in showing the important areas defined by the local community. These guides are available without cost at many marinas, tackle shops, boating supply stores and other marine businesses, as well as being accessible online through FWC’s website. As of December 2021, close to 3 million guides have been printed and distributed statewide.

two maps showing examples of boating guides with information on depths, water bodies, and land masses.

Maps from the Boating and Angling Guide to the Lower Florida Keys (left) and Tampa Bay (right).

The newer Florida Fishing Pier Finder is an interactive map tool that allows anglers to find publicly accessible fishing piers, jetties, fishing-specific bridges and fishing fingers around the state. It is a detailed map and is best viewed using computers or tablets with larger screens. You can view the map and use the filter features to search for a location by county, feature name, city, and type of feature such as a bridge or pier. You can also sort by whether a fishing license is provided by the owners of the pier. You can see a list of all the fishing locations that are shown on the map, and as you filter down, the list will get shorter and shorter until you find specific locations for your particular area that you can choose from. Click “empty” to clear the search filters for each parameter. You can also view the map as a street map or use an aerial view.

Florida’s recreational fishing industry contributes $8.3 billion to Florida’s economy annually (source). Providing multiple access methods for anglers to reach the diverse fishing opportunities found in Florida is important to recruit, retain and reactivate anglers in the sport of fishing and helps ensure the future of conservation funding that supports these vital fisheries. Fishing piers, bridges, jetties and fingers give anglers who enjoy fishing from shore or do not have a boat an opportunity to catch a variety of species. Some piers extend a few feet into the water, while others may extend 2,000 or more feet into the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. A majority of them are free to use. For those where a fee is required, almost all have a pier license that covers anglers, resident and non-resident, that fish on the pier.

New technology changes how we interact with our world around us, and tools and products like these are no exception. There was a time when a paper map was cutting-edge technology! IS&M will look ahead with an eye towards new technology that can be used to better inform visitors and citizens of Florida of our natural resources and ecosystems that we are ourselves a part of.