Acquisition To Protect St. Augustine's Fish Island Approved By Governor, Cabinet

Jul 25, 2019

Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet on Thursday approved the acquisition of 57 acres on St. Augustine’s 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.

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

The cost of the acquisition hasn't been announced but the St. Augustine Record reported in May that the bank involved had been seeking $6.5 million.

The Fish Island Site, known as “El Vergel,” was owned by Jesse Fish and his heirs from 1760 to the 1820s, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

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.

“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.