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.
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.
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!
Sarasota Bay Watch is garnering excellent support from individuals, businesses and Foundations. Their recent fund raiser was a huge success.
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 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”
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
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.
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.
Members of Sarasota Bay Watch teamed up with The Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant, Longboat Key Turtle Watch, Suncoast Waterkeepers, St Stephan’s Episcopal, Whitney’s and the Town of Longboat Key to do an invasive cleanup on the Sister Keys Saturday November 23rd from 8:00 – 12:00. Thirty volunteers worked to help Longboat Key keep the keys in their “natural” state.
The Sister Keys Conservancy was created in 1989 in response to the listing of the property for sale. With the impetus of the Conservancy the Seventy Four (74) acre islands were saved from imminent development in 1992 when the Town Commission vote unanimously to purchase the islands. They were then designated as a nature preserve in perpetuity.
In 2007 a million plus mitigation project removed all invasive species, planted native vegetation and created a two-acre wetland. Sarasota Bay Watch has a yearly cleanup in April and the Invasive cleanup in November. For more information on the history of the Sister Keys visit www.sisterkeys.org. Find Sarasota Bay Watch at www.sarasotabaywatch.org.