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The vast seagrass beds of just north of Tampa, Fla., took a step closer toward permanent protection after state lawmakers approved a pair of bills to create an aquatic preserve.

The area, known as the Nature Coast, covers the Gulf of Mexico shorelines of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties north of Tampa.

The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve would be the first new preserve in more than three decades and the 42nd in the state. The legislation now awaits Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.

The bill received significant support, including a save our seagrass coalition led by the International Game Fish Association that gathered recreational angling and manufacturing groups including the National Marine Manufacturers Association, Captains for Clean Water, Wild Oceans and several others.

“We are thankful for the Legislature’s leadership,” said Jason Schratwieser, president of the International Game Fish Association. “The new aquatic preserve protects some of the state’s last best remaining seagrass beds and demonstrates the state’s commitment to keeping Florida the ‘Fishing Capital of the World.’”

Similar to the other aquatic preserves in the state, recreational activity—boating, fishing and scalloping—would still be permitted within its borders.

Map Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Map Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

The local community also came out to support the bill. More than 100 business in the tri-county area announced their support by signing a letter in favor of the preserve.

“We support state legislation to create a new aquatic preserve and close the gap in protection for this valuable marine coastline. Healthy coastal habitats foster fishing, boating, and tourism that drive our economy… [They] support valuable fisheries, seafood production, working waterfronts, and eco-tourism that generate approximately $600 million for the region’s economy annually, provide more than 10,000 jobs, and fuel over 500 businesses,” the letter stated.