Annual Sister Keys Cleanup

Suncoast Waterkeeper (SCWK) is pleased to announce that Samantha (Sam) Gentrup, joined the organization on Monday, March 1, 2021 as the Executive Director.  Gentrup comes to Suncoast Waterkeeper with an extensive background in education and grassroots environmental movements. After almost two decades of empowering children and young adults to use their skills and passion to make a difference in the world, Sam is excited to make environmental activism her primary focus.  Gentrup has been a public speaker, grassroots co-leader, environmental speech writer, and organizer for local and statewide events. Her passion centers on raising awareness about the challenges that face the regions fragile marine ecosystems. Gentrup understands the interconnectivity of the issues that face the Suncoast, and will bring passion and energy to Suncoast Waterkeeper’s environmental protection movement.  

  Gentrup will be participating in Sarasota Bay Watch’s (SBW) Annual Sister Keys Cleanup this Saturday, March 6, 2021.  Suncoast Waterkeeper (SCWK) is teaming up with Sarasota Bay Watch this year and in the future on this longstanding event. The cleanup is a collaboration with Town of Longboat Key and the Chiles Group. The event will kick off starting with registration at 8:00 AM on the bayfront at the Mar Vista Restaurant at 760 Broadway Street, Longboat Key. Volunteers will work for four hours on the island and around the mangrove fringes collecting trash and recyclable items. 

The Sister Keys were originally slated for development in the early 60’s and were once again threatened in 1989 when they went on sale for one million dollars. That spurred a group of citizens to form the Sister Keys Conservancy in an attempt to buy and preserve the islands as a nature preserve. The Town purchased the islands in 1994 with a stipulation that the keys would never be developed.  The islands underwent a million-dollar mitigation in 2007 that removed all invasive species, planted native flora and created a two-acre wetland. 

The Longboat Key Marine division will be patrolling the intercoastal waterway to slow boaters. Kayakers and those without a boat will be ferried to the island by volunteers. Larry Beggs, owner of Reef Innovations Inc. will once again help the effort with a barge where volunteers can off load their trash.  

   This year, due to the pandemic, a light box lunch will be served, courtesy of the Mar Vista Restaurant.  Anyone not willing to mask for the event or those who are still uncomfortable with groups can still participate during the following week.  Through an arrangement with Longboat Key Public Works, volunteers can do a cleanup on their own and deposit bags at the town dock for pickup between March 6 and March 14, 20121.  Registration is required, participants can sign up on the Sarasota Bay Watch web site www.sarasotabaywatch.org.

    The Sister Keys Clean Up is just one of many projects that SBW is involved in. In 2020 SBW planted over 750,000 clams in the bay in an ongoing restoration effort. Other cleanups are conducted at various locations throughout the bay as well as an annual monofilament cleanup and much more. 

    Suncoast Waterkeeper is a Sarasota based advocacy non-profit committed to protecting and restoring Florida Suncoast’s waterways through enforcement, fieldwork, advocacy and environmental education for the benefit of the communities that rely upon these precious coastal resources. Their efforts have been responsible for major initiatives that hold municipalities responsible to mandates established in the landmark 1982 Clean Water Act. SCWK also conducts bi-monthly water testing of inland coastal waters. For more information on their mission go to  www.suncoastwaterkeeper.org.

2021 Year of The Bay

2021 and Beyond

Happy New Year to everyone who appreciates and works to keep the Sister Keys and Sarasota Bay healthy and self sustaining. There are major challenges ahead for the bay in 2021 and beyond. Luckily there are a few bright spots as well. First the bad news. Since the harmful algae bloom of 2017-2018 there has been a major reduction in seagrass coverage and bay waters have nitrogen levels (which exacerbate algae blooms) far in excess of natural levels. Sewage spills from failed and stressed infrastructure are rampant and storm water run-off overwhelms waste water systems bay wide. Sarasota Bay faces a collapse of the seagrass eco-system we all have grown to cherish. We only have to look as far as Florida’s Indian River lagoon to see what could be the future of Sarasota Bay if we don’t act decisively and soon.

The Good News

The good news is that we have a new Executive Director, Dr. David Tomasko, at the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program that understands the severity of the problem and citizen led environmental watch dogs like Suncoast Waterkeeper bay advocates like Sarasota Bay Watch. In addition citizens of Manatee County voted overwhelmingly (71%) to pass a resolution to buy environmentally sensitive lands. Let’s all pitch in to make 2021 the Year of The Bay.

Keeping Ahead of The Invasive Flora

In the last few weeks Ed Deim and I have been tagging and treating Brazilian peppers and Australian pines. We’re gathering information to share with Longboat Key’s Public Works Department who will be conducting an invasive sweep of the Keys in the next couple of months. The work that the Friends of Sister Keys have done, and is doing in conjunction with the Town is working to keep the keys from being overwhelmed with the ever present invasive flora. We hope to announce another cleanup as soon as the virus crisis is under control. Below are images of the progress we’re making.

Exciting News

It’s been a hot summer and a bit buggy for the Sister Keys but there are exciting things going on. We reviewed the original deed for the purchase of Sister Keys with the help of Tom Harmer, Longboat Key’s Town Manager. The Audubon is a signer and the document states that nothing can change at the Sister Keys (i.e. change of status as protected) without the consent of Audubon and Longboat Key. This document was enforce for thirty years and then renews for ten year periods after that. Audubon has added the Sister Keys to their Coastal Islands Sanctuaries and will help to make sure the Keys stay natural.

We are also working to address some erosion issues on the north end of the north island adjacent to the intercostal . We look forward to future events on the Sister Keys and are going to be seeking funding sources for future projects.

Sister Keys March 24, 2020

The result of the work on March 7, 2020

I was on the Sister Keys Wednesday and took some pictures showing results of the invasive clearing Sarasota Bay Watch and the Friends of Sister Keys March 7 our last. Thanks again for helping to keep this special place special!

Thank you Sarasota Bay Watch and the Friends of Sister Keys.

Scallopalooza, It’s Clamtastic

Sarasota Bay Watch is garnering excellent support from individuals, businesses and Foundations. Their recent fund raiser was a huge success.

Board Members and students plant clams into Sarasota Bay during 2019.

Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) held its 10th Annual “Scallopalooza, It’s Clamtastic” fund-raising event at their new venue, Sarasota’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. on Saturday, Feb. 15. The yearly event sold out and exceeded all expectations as close to 450 people showed up to demonstrate their support for the group’s efforts to protect and enhance the health of Sarasota Bay. Attendees from Sarasota and Manatee counties were represented as well as officials from both counties and environmental groups including the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Mote Scientific Foundation, START, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Longboat Key Turtle Watch, Save Our Seabirds, Coastal Conservation Association, The Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Mote Marine Laboratory, The Gulf Shellfish Institute, Science and Environmental Council of Southwest Florida, New College and Saint Stephen’s just to name a few.

A number of annual attendees commented that they were “blown away” by the outpouring of support for an organization that was formed in 2007 in the aftermath of one of the area’s massive red tide events. SBW’s event coordinator, Ronda Ryan, worked with event planner Laura Detwiler, the SBW board and Scallopalooza Committee Chairs Brian Jung, Al Jeffery, John Ryan and Ernesto Lasso De La Vega to organize an event that had a seasoned activist overheard commenting that SBW was “more than a little found!”

The evening began with live music, an open bar and a huge silent auction including artwork, event tickets and merchandise of every description as participants mingled to share their passion for Sarasota Bay. Event Chair Brian Jung welcomed the crowd and thanked them for their support while keeping everyone apprised of the auction items and encouraging them to visit the tables. John Ryan, a founding member of Sarasota Bay Watch, was next and explained the purpose of the event as well as SBW’s many projects including island cleanups, student educational activities, plans for the future as well as updating participants on the group’s program in progress to introduce 1 million clams into Sarasota Bay in 2020. This effort got a huge boost in 2019 with a $106,000 donation from the Marjory and Charles Barancik Foundation. Jung related the impact of clams on the health of the bay and how funds raised at the event will support those efforts.

In an emotional speech, Sarasota’s Barbara Sucoff, an SBW supporter who learned about the group’s efforts at a “Friend Raiser” event at the VUE condominium with her late husband Jim Ninivaggi, spoke of the legacy he wanted to and did leave supporting SBW’s efforts. WWSB TV’s Channel 7 weatherman Bob Harrigan, one of the area’s most popular and respected broadcasters and the emcee for the live auction gave a rousing speech lauding the group’s efforts and encouraging them to bid on a trip with award-winning local celebrity Captain Scott Moore and a package of premier tickets to the Tampa Bay Bucs football games. Harrigan has been promoting the group’s efforts since the beginning and recounted the segment he did with Sarasota’s Captain Jonnie Walker during SBW’s first-ever Scallop Search in 2008. Moore then took the stage and recounted his life-long love affair with Sarasota Bay and his commitment to protecting it, beginning with the formation of the Manatee County Chapter of the Florida Conservation Association in the 1980s until today. He then proceeded to up his offering from one day to two, offering trips from Sarasota Bay to Charlotte Harbor.

Both auction items were heavily bid on and raised thousands of dollars for the group’s efforts. At press time the totals of the evening’s proceeds that will be put to work in Sarasota Bay were not available but early estimates are that they will far exceed those of previous events.

To get involved with the work SBW is doing to protect Sarasota Bay and support its mission, visit their website. As they say, “A Healthy Bay is Everybody’s Business,” literally and figuratively!

The Solution To Climate Change?

The Sister Keys are a living laboratory where current and future generations can experience the regenerative power of nature. In my column I review a movie “Kiss The Ground” that highlights the potential of agriculture to capture excess carbon from the atmosphere. Places like the Sister Keys could use this same model by planting native trees and encouraging the proliferation of mangroves. “The Solution To Climate Change”

Kiss The Ground

Last night my friend Captain Rodney Smith and I attended the screening of a new and powerful film, produced by and adapted from the book”Kiss The Ground” by Josh and Rebecca Tickell. The movie tells the story of a critical and fast growing movement to (re) educate people on the importance of soil health and the potential of soil to capture carbon and remove it from the atmosphere. I was struck by the connection between projects like Kiss the Ground and the Sister Keys and and how they can contribute to a drawdown of the excess carbon that our waters have absorbed. Healthy mangroves capture more carbon than an equal area of rain forest and the Sister Keys “created” wetlands have acres of new mangroves where none existed a decade ago. These mangroves are now over ten feet tall.

I envision the Sister Keys as a powerful natural “demonstration” area where potential projects might include planting native trees and restoring shellfish all of which capture carbon. You’re participation in making this possible is critical, thank you. For more information on the movie and movement visit www.kisstheground.com

Three Weeks Later

Yesterday December 15, 2019 I visited the Sister Keys north end with Benny and Becky Parrish. The effects of the last Sarasota Bay Watch- Longboatboat Key- Sister Keys Clean Up were apparent. Here are a couple of shots of the results of volunteers hard work. Before and after shots tell the story best.

Before the cleanup invasive Balsam Apple vines cover native
privet
Three weeks later the vines give way to the natives.

What a difference a Week Makes

One week after the Sister Keys Invasive cleanup the work volunteers completed is remarkable. On a quick visit to the north island I photographed the work volunteers did in controlling the spread of the invasive bitter melon vine. I think you’ll agree there is a visually stunning change. Check out the before and after images.