Aiding and abetting the cleanup of Sarasota Bay
Clean and healthy water surrounding Anna Maria Island is a thing of beauty and joy.
The bays and Gulf of Mexico were once, not so long ago, truly a thing of beauty. Dark times came to the shimmering expanse of water in the early part of the 20th century in the form of rapid development that stripped the shoreline of its fragile, filtering wetlands to make room for shoreside homes.
Dredges pounded the bays day and night to dig up the bottom and its fragile critters with it for navigational channels for recreational boaters and shipping.
Once pristine waters became filled with muck. Fish, birds, crabs and other marine life suffered due to human intrusion.
Southwest Florida author Randy Wayne White expressed the situation well in his book “The Man Who Invented Florida,” when he wrote:
“According to anecdotal accounts, the bays of Southwest Florida had been not tannin-stained but clear up until the turn of the century, when a powerful consortium — the Army Corps of Engineers and the state government, plus land-boom developers — began its assault on the swamps, dredging, filling, building roads, straightening rivers. It was generally accepted that the wholesale loss of root structure had mucked the water system. Erosion. It was also generally accepted that, because most of the dredging had been stopped in the 1970s, the bays would gradually heal themselves.”
Enter a relatively new doctor to the amphitheatre of bay healing: Sarasota Bay Watch.
Sarasota Bay Watch formed about a year ago with a relatively simple mission of “preserving and restoring Sarasota Bay's ecosystem through community education and citizen participation.”
Sarasota Bay — generally the stretch of bay water from the north tip of Anna Maria Island south to the Venice Inlet in Sarasota County — is in pretty good shape. It holds an Outstanding Florida Water moniker from environmental regulators, had a National Estuary designation before that group became a not-for-profit organization, and the bays aren’t in too bad a shape environmentally.
But the water quality and clarity isn’t what it once was, say 100 years or so ago. Sarasota Bay Watch want to help us remember and bring back that thing of beauty and joy.
“Sarasota Bay is out there,” Rusty Chinnis says, “but it doesn’t have a face. It depends on how we live our lives. We all need to work with a common interest in mind, with what ways we can do a common good.”
Sarasota Bay Watch and Chinnis are not re-inventing the wheel in their estuarine quest for good. The not-for-profit group is building on tried-and-true means to bring about positive change, using current technology and a lot of help from its new eco-friends.
The group held its first “Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search” last year, counting 947 of the delicate mollusks, generally thought to be the harbingers of clear water and a clean estuary. The group drew 62 snorkelers on 31 boats for the one-day search.
The scallop count wasn’t huge — just one of Florida’s Nature Coast scallopers can harvest that many in a day — but since scallops had pretty much disappeared in Sarasota Bay in the late 1970s, to find that number is a good indication that the bay’s recovery may be a reality.
A Tampa Bay scallop search uncovered a lone scallop a few years ago, for example.
Another Sarasota Bay Watch venture, this more landborne, will be held Feb. 7 on Sister Keys in the north bay just off the northeast tip of Longboat Key. Volunteers will be cleaning up the human detritus on the islands from 9 a.m. to noon, and will have a luncheon at the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub on the key afterwards.
Chinnis said the group is working on reconstruction of its Web site, which should be up and running shortly. Check out sarasotabaywatch.com for more information.
Help from friends
And as to bay friends ….
Chinnis said Sarasota Bay Watch has a hefty group of folk who have been helping the organization. He’s been an avid angler and contractor on Longboat Key for 28 years, founder and first president of the Manatee Chapter of the Florida Conservation Association, president and chair of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He serves as president of the organization.
John Ryan is the group’s secretary. He’s an environmental professional employed by Sarasota County who specializes in water quality and has worked with Mote Marine Laboratory.
G. Lowe Morrison is treasurer of Sarasota Bay Watch. He’s a principal with Sabal Trust Company, a seventh-generation Floridian and has been a trustee of Mote Marine, board member of Tampa Bay Watch, treasurer of the Sarasota Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association and trust officer of the Pope & Young Club Trust Fund.
Ed Chiles is a bay watch board member. He is owner of the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, as well as the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub on Longboat Key and the BeachHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach. He’s a founding member and served as chair of Solutions To Avoid Red Tide for 10 years as well as a long-standing member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and a host of other business groups in the region. Chiles, son of the late Governor Lawton Chiles, also serves as vice chair of the Lawton Chiles Foundation.
Adam J. Fernandez, also a board member, is an attorney with the law firm of Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano, P.L., in Bradenton.
Board member Sandy Gilbert is the current chair of START. He has a background in advertising before his retirement, and was with Time magazine for 26 years as associate advertising director and was director of ad sales at Smithsonian magazine.
J. Ryan Denton is a board member and lives on Anna Maria Island. A Florida native, he is with Morgan Stanley and president of the Manasota Chapter of START.
Charlotte Richardson serves on the board and is a graduate of University of Durham in England with a degree in Medical Anthropology. She is a member of the Manasota Track Club, Big Brother Big Sisters, Tampa Bay Watch, START and the Mote Marine Dolphin and Whale Hospital.
Board member Capt. Jonnie Walker has been a Sarasota resident since 1956 and a professional fishing guide since 1974. He is a charter member and past president of Coastal Conservation Association. He is also a charter member of the citizens advisory council of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, a member of the Sarasota County Reef Committee, and served eight years on the Natural Resources and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of Sarasota County.
“We want our group to be inclusive, not exclusive,” Chinnis said. He said its members include Realtors, developers, restaurateurs and environmentalists, as well as citizens who care about the health of the bay.
And the group has received some significant funding to aid in its efforts.
START donated $20,000 to the organization for start-up expenses. The Duckwall Foundation provided a $3,000 matching grant. The Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation provided $20,000.
The contributions provide a clear financial indicator to the value many place on Sarasota Bay, Chinnis said.
“Water quality has a huge economic impact on the whole region,” he said.
Karl Bickel probably best summed up the lure and importance of Sarasota Bay in his book “Mangrove Coast” when he wrote:
“Stand on the beach and look to sea. You will see creatures as strange as the trees and plants — the rare and lonely manatee, the great sea turtles, the slowly turning dolphin, the flashing tarpon and the king. Then the old tales begin to take shape, tales of Spanish cavaliers, and smuggled drugs and Chinamen, of the wrecks when the bitter lash of the nor’wester has struck the coast. The sun is setting. Look about you. The saying goes that if you once get the sand of the Coast in your shoes, you will itch forever after with the longing to return to bury your toes in the sand of this shore, to smell its morning winds, and gaze at its high blue sky.”