Punta Gorda, Florida: Right Up Next to Nature

Each year, the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Great Places series highlights towns and cities that are working to create successful, sustainable communities. Punta Gorda, Florida, is one of our 2013 Great Places.

  • Alligator River in Punta Gorda, Florida
    Life in Punta Gorda, Fla., revolves around the water.
    Photo By Michael Heller
  • Charlotte Harbor Scallop Search
    Volunteers prepare to count scallops in Charlotte Harbor.
    Photo By Michael Heller

  • Alligator River in Punta Gorda, Florida
  • Charlotte Harbor Scallop Search

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2013 installment of 9 Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard of.

Punta Gorda, Florida. If spending a day snorkeling and counting scallops in tall seagrass sounds like your idea of volunteerism, check out this seaside town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, located at the confluence of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor.

Each year, more than 40 boat captains and 150 snorkelers help inventory the scallop populations as part of the Charlotte Harbor Great Bay Scallop Search. “The scallop is one of the canaries in the ocean’s ‘coal mine,’ so it’s vital to track its welfare,” says Betty Staugler, the Sea Grant Marine Science agent with the University of Florida Charlotte County Extension Service, which sponsors the event.

Scallop welfare isn’t so great right now, Staugler says, though the population is coming back from a complete collapse in the 1980s. “The assistance of our citizen-scientist volunteers makes it possible for us to do this study each year.”

Punta Gorda has an impressive comeback story of its own. In August 2004, Hurricane Charley devastated the city, but the disaster also led to a revitalization of much of the city’s infrastructure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center has recognized Punta Gorda for developing and implementing its robust climate change adaptation plan.

“Most towns don’t get an opportunity to rethink and rebuild themselves,” says Michael Heller, publisher of Water Life, a magazine devoted to fishing and boating in Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor. “After the hurricane hit, the city embarked on building state-of-the-art public facilities, as well as a hiking and biking trail that includes a 15-mile ‘Ring Around the City.’”

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