Consider the Apalachicola Bay oyster. Not only is it the best tasting oyster in the world, but it is also a great barometer of the health of the Bay that nurtures it. Today, the oysters are in wonderful shape and the Apalachicola River and Bay make up one of the last great pristine estuarine systems in North America. This is a bountiful bay.
There are vast natural areas to explore around the river and bay. More than 85 percent of Franklin County, home to St. George Island, is either state or federally protected. State parks and forests, national wildlife preserves, national forests and wildlife management areas are there to be explored and enjoyed. Tate’s Hell alone has more than 100,000 protected acres of prairie, wetlands, swamp, bottomlands, hammocks and flood plains. Throughout the area, there are hiking trails and endless miles of marsh, creeks, cypress swamps and undeveloped shoreline to silently paddle through in a canoe or kayak.
Some 185 species of fish live in the river and bay system, more than any for any other locale in Florida. It is a nursery for millions of fish that populate not only the local waters, but the entire Gulf of Mexico. This is a fisherman’s delight, and a conservationists dream.
This area is home to 1,300 species of plants, including many endangered species, and more than 50 species of mammals such as the Florida black bear, river otters, and the West Indian Manatee. Beginning in May, leatherback, loggerhead and green turtles return to St. George Island and its neighboring barrier islands to lay their eggs on the beaches where they were born. Fifty five to 60 days later, a new generation of turtles struggles to the water.
Florida’s Panhandle is a birder’s paradise with the highest species diversity in the state. Birding here is a year-round event. Full-time residents include ospreys, eagles, cardinals, towhees, oystercatchers, pelicans, gulls, terns, shorebirds and many others. Spring and fall migrations bring colorful songbirds such as warblers, buntings, tanagers, grosbeaks, vireos and many more.
The Apalachicola River and Bay system is a precious natural gift. It is available to everyone who values and respects this natural treasure. Come visit, enjoy and preserve it for the future.