A Guide for the General Public

This section was authored by Dr. Charles Closmann, Associate Professor of History at the University of North Florida, and Dr. Christorpher Baynard, Professor of GIS at the University of North Florida.

I. What is the State of the River Report?

The State of the River Report summarizes the “health” of the Lower St. Johns River Basin (LSJRB). By “health,” the authors are referring to factors that affect human well-being, recreation, the economy, and the environment. These aspects of the river basin’s health include:     

  1. Water quality in the St. Johns River and the streams and creeks that flow into the river in northeast Florida;   
  2. (2) The condition of fish, crab, oysters, shrimp populations in the area, and
  3. Whether rivers, swamps, and marshes support thriving populations of plants and animals, while also providing economic, recreational, and health benefits for the people who live in northeast Florida.

The State of the River Report includes a “Highlights” chapter, the past, present, and future of alligators in the river. This chapter also highlights the relationship between social justice and resiliency (see State of the River Report Highlights).   

Finally, the State of the River Report includes valuable guidance for teachers in grades K-12. Such guidance includes:

  1. Lesson plans on aquatic life, contaminants, water quality, and fisheries. These lesson plans encourage students to be “citizen scientists,” using data from the State of the River Report to address environmental challenges.  Examples include presentations on channel catfish, white shrimp, red drum, and the effects of salinity, phosphorous, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity.
  2. An interactive lesson plan on the history of the St. Johns River, with focus on the twentieth century.
    (see Lesson Plans at https://sjrr.domains.unf.edu/service-learning-examples/).

Authors of the State of the River Report include researchers from Jacksonville University, the University of North Florida, Florida Southern College, and West Chester University (in Pennsylvania). The entire State of the River Report is available online at http://www.sjrreport.com, and report highlights are available in a brochure.

II. What are the Most Important Conclusions from the State of the River Report?

  1. Water quality in the main part of the St. Johns River in northeast Florida is generally suitable for boating, fishing, and other forms of recreation. There are plenty of popular species of fish in the river, including redfish (“red drum”), trout (“spotted seatrout”), mullet (“striped (black) mullet”), croaker, sheepshead, flounder, largemouth bass, bluegill, and other species (State of the River Report Section 3). Fishery status and trends are presented in Sections 3.2 and 3.3. In general, half of the species studied maintain an uncertain status, while the trend for all 12 vertebrate and invertebrate species remains unchanged.
  2. Populations of well-known animals, such as bald eagles and wood storks, are healthy (State of the River Report Section 4.4).
  3. There are reasons to be concerned about the health of the river:
    1. Water quality in some tributaries is too poor to allow the safe consumption of fish or crabs from these streams, or to allow swimming.
    2. Pollution—especially in the tributaries—threatens human health, the economy, and the ecosystems that support plants, animals, and recreation. Run-off from roads, development, failing septic tanks, past industrial activities and agriculture pollutes the LSJRB. Contamination by metals, pesticides, and other chemicals also remains a serious concern. For the 2023 study, surface water samples were collected and analyzed for 29 tributaries of the LSJRB. Sixty-two percent of these water bodies were listed as impaired for 2022, with excess iron, nutrients, and E. coli being the leading contributors (State of the River Report Section 2.7 and 5.4.5).
    3. Mercury in fish can provide a health hazard when fish consumption exceeds Florida Department of Health (FDOH) advisories. The general population can consume fish with 0.3 parts per million (ppm) of mercury concentration, though limits are lower for children and women of child-bearing age. Depending on the species, the public is advised to limit fish consumption of many popular species to 1-8 meals per month. However, everyone is advised not to consume sharks larger than 43 inches and king mackerel larger than 31 inches (State of the River Report Section 3.1.3).
    4. Wetlands are increasingly threatened. Urban development, agriculture, federal regulation changes and other factors contribute to the loss of swamps, marshes, and other wetlands.
    5. Salinity is rising significantly in some locations, possibly causing a loss of submerged aquatic vegetation. Rising sea levels and other factors (including anthropogenic and natural influences) have increased salinity (State of the River Report Sections 2.8 and 4.1).
    6. Submerged aquatic vegetation is below levels desired to support fisheries, prevent erosion, mitigate floods, and provide other benefits (State of the River Report Section 4.1).
    7. Dredging by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) could increase salinity in some locations and reduce submerged aquatic vegetation in northern parts of the LSJRB (USACE 2014b). These actions could also increase water levels in a 100-year storm surge by several inches in the main part of the river (USACE 2014b).
    8. Populations of manatees, while higher than in past decades, are threatened by boat traffic and watercraft collision, reduced aquatic vegetation (and resulting starvation), red tide, cold stress and other factors (State of the River Report Section 4.4; FGDL 2023). About 6% of manatee deaths across the state from 1974-2021 occurred inside the LSJRB, and around one third of these deaths were due to watercraft collisions (FGDL 2023).
  4. Local governments and partnering agencies have improved water quality by funding the replacement of failing septic tanks, improving wastewater treatment plants, and conducting other measures to reduce the flow of pollutants into waterways. Their efforts will continue, depending upon funding by the state and other agencies (1000FOF 2022; State of the River Report Section 1.5).

III. What Does the St. Johns River Mean for You?

The St. Johns River is vital to the people, animals, and plants that live in northeast and east-central Florida. Since the early 1900s, the St. Johns River has made Jacksonville one of the largest, most vibrant cities in Florida. Today, the river supports the economy through the Port of Jacksonville, the military, and businesses such as transportation and logistics, medical and financial services, universities, and other agencies. The river also draws thousands of boaters, fishermen, paddlers, and others who enjoy this waterway. As Jacksonville University marine biologist Quinton White notes, “There are so many outstanding opportunities to enjoy the river that there really isn’t a good excuse not to” (White 2015).

Here are just a few things that the St. Johns River means for the public:


Boaters have always enjoyed the St. Johns River. Today, one can operate motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, paddleboards, and other craft on the St. Johns and many of its tributaries. However, anyone boating on the river should remember basic guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC):

Boater Safety

  1. Obtain the proper boating license, depending upon your age. According to the FWC, “Anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, who operates a vessel powered by ten (10) horsepower or more, must pass an approved boater safety course and be issued a boating safety identification card.” See https://myfwc.com/license/boating-navigation/;
  2. Watch the weather forecast for storms and pay attention to wind and tides. See the National Weather Service Weather Activity Planner at https://forecast.weather.gov/wxplanner.php?site=jax;
  3. Provide a life jacket for every adult in a boat and wear life jackets properly. If not wearing life jackets, they must be easily and quickly accessible. Meanwhile, children under 13 years old must wear an approved life jacket. See: https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/life-jacket-wear-wearing-your-life-jacket.php;
  4. Do not operate a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. See https://myfwc.com/boating/regulations/;
  5. All boats are required to carry safety equipment. This may include fire extinguishers, distress signals, and other devices, depending upon the size and configuration of a vessel. Visit https://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/ for all the information you need on boater safety (FWC 2018a).

Boater Etiquette

  1. Observe posted rules at all times, including no wake zones;
  2. Pay attention to rules regarding protection of manatees and dolphins. For more information on manatees, see https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/wildlife/manatee/protection-zones/. Please exercise caution around dolphins. Never feed or harass dolphins, and if fishing, avoid releasing your catch or throwing out leftover bait near dolphins. For information on proper behavior around dolphins, see https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/aquatic/dolphin/;
  3. Pay attention to other boaters, and slow down to reduce your wake if you are near kayakers, other small boats or no-wake zones. See https://myfwc.com/boating/safety-education/;
  4. Exercise special care if boating with pets. Provide plenty of water and a place in the shade for your pets and consider a life vest for your pet—these are becoming more popular. For more information on boating with pets, see https://www.boatingmag.com/10-tips-boating-pets/;
  5. Please do not litter.

Special Boating Rules for the St. Johns River Tributaries

  • Please exercise caution when fishing and/or swimming in polluted tributaries. Some of the creeks that flow into the St. Johns River are badly polluted with high enough levels of human waste, metals, pesticides, and other materials that can sicken humans. The following selected creeks are especially polluted, and “impaired” under existing laws. The reason these streams are “impaired,” is listed (State of the River Report Sections 1, 2 and 5):
      1. Arlington River (iron)
      2. Big Fishweir Creek (dissolved oxygen, nutrients, iron)
      3. Black Creek (dissolved oxygen)
      4. Broward River ( coli)
      5. Cedar River ( coli, iron)
      6. Deep Creek (dissolved oxygen, nutrients, iron)
      7. Dunns Creek/Crescent Lake ( coli, nutrients)
      8. Ginhouse Creek ( coli)
      9. Goodbys Creek (iron)
      10. Intracoastal Waterway ( coli, iron)
      11. Julington Creek ( coli)
      12. Mill Creek (iron)
      13. Moncrief Creek (nutrients, iron, copper)
      14. Ortega River ( coli)
      15. Pottsburg Creek (nutrients, iron)
      16. Ribault River (nutrients, iron)
      17. Trout River ( coli, nutrients, lead)
  • Avoid boating or swimming near algae blooms. In some years, excessive storm water run-off and wastewater provide large amounts of nutrients that cause algae to grow and “bloom” in the river. Some kinds of algae are toxic, threatening human health, killing fish, and disrupting ecosystems (State of the River Report Section 1.1).
  • Be cautious around alligators and other potentially dangerous animals. During most of the year, alligators pose little threat to humans. However, always give alligators plenty of room, especially in the spring and summer mating season (Fenton 2020). Never feed alligators and always keep your pets on a leash if you are walking near bodies of water with alligators. Never swim near alligators and avoid swimming at dawn, dusk, or night. See https://myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/wildlife/gators/pet-safety/.


Fishing has always been popular in the St. Johns River and nearby waterways. Indigenous people in the region ate oysters, shrimp, crabs and fish as a normal part of their diet, and fishing has remained important ever since, even if it does not represent most of what we eat today (White 2015).

General Guidelines about Fishing

  1. There are plenty of popular species of fish in the St. Johns River and in some of its tributaries. Populations of redfish (“red drum”), trout (“spotted seatrout”), and mullet (“striped mullet”), are healthy. There are also a number of species of fish that can be caught offshore, some of which rely upon the St. Johns River and its marshes as a nursery (State of the River Report Section 3). Fish caught in the river or offshore are safe to eat, within limits (see 4 below);
  2. You must obtain the proper license to fish in the St. Johns River, its estuary, or just offshore. See https://myfwc.com/license/recreational/faqs/ (FWC 2018b);
  3. Avoid fishing in polluted tributaries. Pay attention to all posted warnings about fishing in a particular area;
  4. Be careful about how much fish you eat. While fish is a welcome addition to most diets, some people should be cautious about consuming too much fish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Health, and Florida Department of Environmental Protection work to determine if certain species of fish pose a threat to health due to contamination. If so, they will issue an advisory about fish consumption. For example, the species weakfish found in the St. Johns River between the Mathews Bridge (State Route 115) and the Center Point Terminal (E 21 St.) contains PCBs and pesticides and should not be eaten (FDOH 2023). See: https://dchpexternalapps.doh.state.fl.us/fishadvisory/
  5. For warnings about consuming fish from specific bodies of water in the Lower St. Johns River Basin, see https://dchpexternalapps.doh.state.fl.us/fishadvisory/;
  6. Avoid fishing in areas with algae blooms.


Please be careful before swimming in the St. Johns River. The currents are strong, and thunderstorms, winds, tides and the many boats that traverse the river can also make swimming dangerous. The water in the river is also dark and opaque, stained with the organic matter and sediments from the many streams, wetlands, and springs that feed the St. Johns. Debris has also accumulated in the river, including abandoned crab pots, fishing equipment, and litter. All these factors make swimming in the river potentially hazardous.

The presence of potentially toxic blue-green algae also poses a health threat to swimmers. Humans should avoid swimming in or near water that is “scummy,” colored green or reddish-brown, or where algae mats are present (FWC 2023b). Despite these hazards, some people do swim in the St. Johns River, though swimming in tributaries should be avoided. For more on this, see this story where a Lake Mary science teacher swam 164 miles of the St. Johns River (Woods 2018).

Finally, please note that blue-green algae are also hazardous to pets and livestock. Animals should not be allowed to drink from or swim in water that is foamy or “scummy,” likely signs of blue-green algae. For more on the dangers of blue-green algae to animals, see: https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/general/cyanobacteria/.

IV. How Can You Get Involved with the St. Johns River?

You can get involved with the St. Johns River in lots of ways. In addition to boating, fishing, and generally enjoying the river, one can join clubs, volunteer with local groups, and find new ways to experience the river and its surroundings. Here are some links to help you get started:

Hiking, Volunteering, and Other Outdoor Activities:

  1. City of Jacksonville, https://www.coj.net/departments/parks-and-recreation;
  2. Audubon Society, http://www.duvalaudubon.org/;
  3. Johns Riverkeeper, https://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/;
  4. Sierra Club, https://www.sierraclub.org/florida/northeast-florida;
  5. Timucuan Parks Foundation, https://www.timucuanparks.org/about-us/.

Volunteering and Community Service through Government Agencies and Universities: 

  1. City of Jacksonville, Environmental Protection Board, https://www.coj.net/departments/neighborhoods/environmental-quality/environmental-protection-board-(1);
  2. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), https://floridadep.gov/search/site/volunteer;
  3. Fort Caroline National Memorial/Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/foca.htm;
  4. Jacksonville University, Marine Science Research Institute, https://www.ju.edu/msri/;
  5. Johns River Water Management District, https://www.sjrwmd.com/;
  6. The University of North Florida, Institute of Environmental Research and Education, https://www.unf.edu/environment/.

 Reporting a Problem: 

  1. Report Algal Blooms: Contact Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) at 855-305-3903. You can also contact the FDEP at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3444948/Algal-Bloom-Reporting-Form;
  2. Report Chemical Spills: Contact City of Jacksonville at 904-630-2489, or at https://www.coj.net/departments/neighborhoods/environmental-quality.aspx;
  3. Report Fish Kills: Contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 800-636-0511. You can also access the Fish Kills reporting system at https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/health/fish-kills-hotline/;
  4. Questions about Animals: Contact one of the numbers for FWC listed at https://myfwc.com/contact/incident-reporting/ for questions about injured or stranded animals;
  5. Report Pollution in Streams:   
    1. Contact Duval County Health Department, Florida Department of Health (DOH) at 850-245-25-4240 or 850-245-4250. See also https://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/index.html for more information;
    2. Contact FDEP at 904-256-1700. You can also visit https://floridadep.gov/dle/oer;
  6. Report Sewage Overflows/Spills: Contact JEA at 904-665-6000.  You can also visit https://www.jea.com/Environment/Compliance_and_Reporting/Environmental_Incident_Reporting/;
  7. Report Pollution Issues, Potential Violations of Law: Contact the St. Johns Riverkeeper or other appropriate agency using the forms and numbers at, https://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/take-action/report/.

Contacting your City Councilmember about the River:

NOTE: District 7 council member is Reggie Gaffney, Jr. This link was revised 11-22-2022. See COJ Jacksonville City Council:  https://www.coj.net/city-council.aspx#:~:text=City%20Council%20Members%20Terrance%20Freeman%20-%20President%20Danny,Priestly%20Jackson%20Joyce%20Morgan%20Samuel%20Newby%20Ju%27Coby%20Pittman   


Figure GP1.1 Jacksonville City Council Districts & Waterways, with contact information. (Map Created by Mike Boyles, University of North Florida. See also City of Jacksonville website: http://www.coj.net/city-council/council-district-maps.aspx (COJ 2020a).
Figure GP1.1 Jacksonville City Council Districts & Waterways, with contact information. (Map Created by Mike Boyles, University of North Florida. See also City of Jacksonville website: http://www.coj.net/city-council/council-district-maps.aspx (COJ 2020a).
Figure GP1.2 Jacksonville At Large City Council Districts & Waterways, with contact information. (Map Created by Mike Boyles, University of North Florida. See also City of Jacksonville website: http://www.coj.net/city-council/council-district-maps.aspx (COJ 2020a).
Figure GP1.2 Jacksonville At Large City Council Districts & Waterways, with contact information. (Map Created by Mike Boyles, University of North Florida. See also City of Jacksonville website: http://www.coj.net/city-council/council-district-maps.aspx (COJ 2020a).

V. How Can You Improve the Health of the St. Johns River and its Tributaries?

ways you can help the St. Johns River