Hope Spot

Hope Spots are special places that are critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart.  Dr. Sylvia Earle, who grew up on the Florida Gulf Coast in Dunedin, has initiated a global effort via Mission Blue, to shed light on these vital ecosystems and ignite support to safeguard them in ways their communities find valuable.

An area may receive the prestigious designation of a Hope Spot if it possesses the following characteristics:

  • Unique ecological features
  • A diversity of or rare/threatened species
  • Spawning or nursery areas
  • Historical, cultural or spiritual values
  • Economic importance to the community

Receiving this designation opens up the global resources of the Mission Blue Foundation, enabling us to utilize the technology and science advisory committees to facilitate:

  • Partnerships
  • Expeditions
  • Community Engagement
  • Communications

Our Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot has all of the characteristics above, making it a very special place. Keep reading for some of the most notable features...

Our Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot...

Pictured is a map of our Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot with one of the reasons it is so special identified in coral.

The area consists of elevated limestone now covered with quartz-rich sand forming the barrier islands.  The underlying bedrock topography defines the orientation of the barrier islands further to the north (Caledesi, Honeymoon, and Anclote), which are situated on a submerged rock ridge.

These offshore rocky hard bottoms support an extensive living benthic community which include the sponges for the Greek sponge diving industry of Tarpon Springs.

The Northern Boundary of the Hope Spot contains oyster habitats that are in critical need of protection.

The Southern Boundary is the lower point of the large section of Coral Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) and unique Hardy Rocky Bottoms. It also includes an area that sustained a significant impact from both red tide and the possibly related contaminated water from Lake Okeechobee.

The Western Boundary was selected to cover the Middle Grounds, EFH and many Blue Holes.

Grass beds are especially prevalent from Tampa Bay northward. They provide protection from storm surge and help to filter the water. They are also a vital ecosystem for everything from microbes to sharks. Many fish use the grass beds as a nursery area.

Blue Holes are ecological hot-spots that support a diverse benthic community as well as various types of fish. They also interestingly provide connectivity between the ocean and the groundwater that lies inward. In fact, some of them, including one right off Tampa Bay still have freshwater springs coming up through them. The connectivity with our ground water highlights the fact that what we do on land can affect the oceans, and vice versa.

“Blue Holes are ecological ‘hot-spots’, having elevated chlorophyll concentrations (from algae) and diverse biological communities that thrive locally above the holes, including commercially important fish species such as grouper, amberjack, and snapper”, Culter said. Hole openings can also host algae, sponges, corals, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, sea turtles and sharks.”

Credit: Rutger, Hayley, “A “hole” new look into
Florida’s offshore frontiers”,  MOTE
2018 Volume 79: Pages 15-18

The Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot is also home to a number of endangered and threatened species according to the IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are the group primarily responsible for determining what species are endangered.

It contains 91 different species that range from critically engangered to near-threatened - that’s over 7% of all of the species in the area

And the population trends are not looking favorable.

"I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films, the web, expeditions, new submarines, a campaign! — to ignite public support for a network of global marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet."

 – Dr. Sylvia Earle’s 2009 TED Prize wish that launched Mission Blue