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Rattlesnake Key slated to become a state park

The Manatee County island, just south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Terra Ceia Bay, is a slice of undeveloped Old Florida.

Those living closest to the ocean have a unique role in conserving wildlife habitats increasingly under threat during a time when development is undergoing a local boom.

That’s why the acquisition of Rattlesnake Key in Manatee County is a win for lovers of unspoiled Old Florida and local conservation advocates.

“Our region is continuing to develop, so there are fewer and fewer opportunities to restore habitats that can improve our quality of life,” says Ed Sherwood, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP), an intergovernmental partnership that includes Manatee County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

“It has critical coastal habitat like mangroves and is adjacent to significant seagrasses that are key to addressing future climate change because they absorb and sequester carbon,” Sherwood continues. In fact, mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests. The island was identified as a conservation priority by the TBEP last year, and for decades, local advocates have highlighted the importance of preserving the 830-acre property.

In the past, plans for a cruise ship terminal, homes and more had been proposed for Rattlesnake Key.