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Date of Issue: August 09, 2007

ManaSota-88 urges review of Passage Key

A regional environmental group urged the federal government to study the feasibility of restoring Passage Key in Tampa Bay.

“There are many projects in the Chasshowitzka National Wildlife Refuge worthy of funding that are ecologically beneficial, do not cause environmental destruction and are fiscally responsible,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88. “ManaSota-88 recommends that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigate the feasibility of restoring Passage Key.”

Passage Key for more than 100 years existed as a thriving national wildlife refuge - visible from the north end of Anna Maria Island.

The designation remains, with Passage Key under the supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chasshowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Crystal River.

But little of Passage Key remains above water.

When President Theodore Roosevelt named Passage Key as a protected wildlife habitat in 1905, the island consisted of about 63 acres and provided habitat for more than 100 species of birds, including laughing gulls, royal terns, black skimmers, sandwich terns, brown pelicans and oystercatchers. The refuge became home to the largest royal tern and sandwich tern nesting colonies in the state of Florida.

A hurricane severely diminished Passage Key in 1921 and storms in 2004 and 2005 took a toll. For much of the last year, Passage Key has been submerged.

But this summer, perhaps in part due to the drought, anglers, aviators and boaters have seen the island appear as a sandbar, inviting conservationists in public and non-profit sectors to wonder what could or should be done for Passage Key.

“The big question is will it come back on its own?” James Kraus, refuge manager with the Chassahowitzka complex, asked recently. “So, do we bid goodbye to a national wildlife refuge? Do we say so long? Or do we do something to restore that island? That’s the question for people in the community.”

Last week, ManaSota-88 responded with a letter calling for the federal government to make a review of Passage Key a funding priority.

Manasota-88 is a public interest environmental protection group based in Nokomis with membership throughout Manatee and Sarasota counties. The group is perhaps best known on the Island for its fight against the SevenShores high-rise development project on nearby Perico Island.

“A priority in funding for the management of Passage Key should be the protection of the habitat values for threatened, rare and endangered species found at the former Passage Key area,” ManaSota-88’s Compton wrote in a letter to Kraus. “Passage Key restoration would benefit native and migratory bird populations such as the royal tern, sandwich tern, oystercatcher and black skimmers.

“Restoration of the key would create diverse marine habitats that could support many fish and shellfish, and provide water quality benefits,” Compton continued.

A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the letter was welcomed, as are other statements on Passage Key.