Guana Tolomato Matanzas Research Reserve Celebrates Ponce De Leon’s Arrival in Florida

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve unveiled the Ponce Educational Exhibit, a new educational display at its North Beach Access today on the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s landing in Florida.

Jimmy Ponce, a descendant of Juan Ponce de Leon, and the Men of Menendez, a 16th century living history group, held a reenactment of the event by taking a reading of the sun at noon using an astrolobe, an ancient navigational device used to calculate locations on the globe. The new exhibit includes a 17-foot tall statue of Ponce de Leon, a historic marker describing the significance of 30˚8’ and the history of the area. The Reserve also reopened its newly reconstructed North Beach Overlook.

“Florida’s dedication to conservation has ensured that the Reserve’s environment today is much like what Ponce de Leon saw in 1513,” said Kevin Claridge, the Director of the Department’s Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas. “This new exhibit not only highlights the role of the Reserve in preserving Florida’s environment, but also one of the most important moments in our state’s rich history.”

The Ponce Exhibit was made possible through donations and the collaboration of many community partners. Local businesses, volunteers and high school students have contributed their time and resources to develop and construct the various elements of the exhibit. The statute and beach overlook is open to the public during daylight hours.

Juan Ponce de Leon is the first explorer to document landing on the Florida coast. His fleet of three vessels sailed from Puerto Rico, sighting what they thought to be an island on Sunday, March 27, 1513, the day of the Festival of the Resurrection. They continued their journey northwest along the coast until beset by foul weather.

After a storm on April 2, Ponce’s fleet moved close to shore to establish a navigational fix. A noon sighting of the sun taken with an astrolabe and checked against navigation tables established a latitude reading of 30⁰ 8’. This reading is the most scientifically accurate fix for Ponce’s landing place on the Florida coast, placing it just north of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve’s boundaries.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas is responsible for oversight of the State’s 41 Aquatic Preserves, three National Estuarine Research Reserves, the Florida Coral Reef Conservation Program, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It is the mission of CAMA to conserve and restore Florida’s coastal resources for the benefit of people and the environment. The GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve promotes informed coastal decisions through research, stewardship and education.

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