Governor and Cabinet Approve Acquisition on Historically Rich Fish Island

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Governor and Cabinet Approve Acquisition on Historically Rich Fish Island

Fish Island

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet approved the acquisition of 57 acres on Fish Island within the Northeast Florida Blueway Florida Forever project.

The property is one of the last remaining undeveloped waterfront properties in the City of St. Augustine. Preservation of this important ecologically and historically rich parcel is vital for the protection of coastal wetlands that serve as nurseries for fisheries and maritime hammock and are essential for storm and ground water protection. Conservation of ecological significant lands also prevents development on coastal land susceptible to hazardous events, such as hurricanes, storm surge and flooding, provides the local community with continued coastal resilience.

"DEP is excited to have another opportunity to protect Florida's natural resources through this acquisition," said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. "I'm grateful to all of the partners who came together to further the mission of protecting Florida's environment."

The Fish Island Site, known as “El Vergel,” was owned by Jesse Fish and his heirs from 1760 to the 1820s. The site is documented to have been one of Florida’s earliest commercial fruit plantations. The history and significance of the archaeological remains on Fish Island were formally recognized when the property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

"Fish Island, with its location in St. Augustine, is an important natural resource, containing the last significant unpreserved maritime hammock forest in St. Augustine, and its development would significantly harm the water quality of the Matanzas River, one of the few urbanized coastal lagoons clean enough to support shellfish harvesting. More significantly though, it's a part of the story of Florida,” said North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy. “Its historic nature is why it was put on the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation's '11 to save' list of most endangered historic properties. If we could not have figured out how to preserve this land, it would almost certainly be developed, losing part of our history forever."

“Fish Island has an abundance of natural resources that are becoming increasingly rare in our region, which is just one reason to commit to its preservation,” said St. Augustine Mayor Tracy Upchurch. “The history of the site and of its namesake, Jesse Fish, is essential to understanding the complete story of Spanish Florida, and the preservation of the site’s valuable archaeological resources is critical to telling that story.”

The property will be managed by the City of St. Augustine as a passive recreational park, with interpretive features describing the natural amenities and archaeological resources.

“Just as important as the preservation of Fish Island are actions taken to ensure that Fish Island is protected and accessible,” said St. Augustine City Manager John Regan. “That’s why the St. Augustine City Commission agreed to limited improvements such as interpretive trails, parking for vehicles and bicycles, fencing as needed, and the management of the overall ecological health of the site; in short, to ensure that Fish Island is a safe and friendly park for the public to enjoy for many future generations.”

Florida Forever is the state's conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, a blueprint for conserving our natural resources and renewing our commitment to conserve our natural and cultural heritage. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of State Lands is Florida’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship.