• ecoregional planning;
  • Florida;
  • Gulf of Mexico;
  • prioritization;
  • site selection


1. The overall aim of this work was to identify sites within the northern Gulf of Mexico that, if protected, would fully represent the biological diversity of the nearshore waters of this ecoregion. In this paper, we focus on the eastern subregion, northwest Florida, to illustrate the process of ecoregional planning in marine environments.

2. The basic steps in ecoregional planning include: identification of conservation targets, i.e. species and habitats; collection of data on their ecology and distribution; determination of conservation goals for the amount of targets that must be protected; and identification of a set of sites that meets these goals for all targets.

3. As a preliminary goal, it was determined that the set of priority sites should contain at least 20% of the current distribution of each target habitat and species.

4. Two primary tools were used to choose a set of priority sites: a reserve selection program, SITES, and interviews and a workshop with scientists and managers. The final set of priority sites integrated information from these various sources.

5. The goals were exceeded for all conservation targets in the priority sites. On average, 75 and 58% of the distributions of the habitat targets were contained within the priority and high priority sites, respectively. These priority and high priority sites only occupied 29 and 17% of the study area, respectively.

6. One of the first steps in the conservation of the bays identified as priority sites is the recognition that they are integrally linked by important processes to the surrounding terrestrial and aquatic environments. Conservation in a part of these estuarine landscapes will benefit biodiversity across environments. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.