The Sister Keys Invasive Cleanup 2019

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 Find Sarasota Bay Watch at

Managing the Sister Keys

There’s probably no place on Florida’s west coast as special as the Sister Keys . The largest undeveloped group of Islands between Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor are particularly unique because all invasive plants were removed in 2007 and native species planted to replace them.

But they depend on volunteers, the Town of Longboat Key and citizen scientist to keep them that way. In the spring of 2019 a crew from LBK Public Works removed 80% of the invasive plants that were regrowing. On November 23rd 2019 Board Members from Sarasota Bay Watch organized an Invasive Cleanup as part of an agreement with the Town.

This cleanup is important as an adjunct to the Town of Longboat Key’s obligation to maintain the Sister Keys but it will take an ongoing commitment to keep the islands in their “natural” state.

This invasive vine is covering native vegetation.

The Sister Keys Conservancy Song

Here’s a piece from the Observer reporting on the debut of the Sister Keys song at Mote Marine. The music and the words were created by Scott Brewer. Mike Stahr produced the movie and Harry’s Continental Kitchen provided food and wine.

The Restorative Power of Nature

These images demonstrate what nature can accomplish with a little assistance.

Just after mitigation 2007
Sister Keys May 2, 2019
The mangroves recruited naturally beginning the first year and are now close to eight foot tall.

Sister Keys Clean Up 2019

Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) will be conducting their Annual Sister Keys Clean up on Saturday, May 4, 2019. The event is a collaboration with the Town of Longboat Key and the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant. Volunteers organized by SBW Events Coordinator Ronda Ryan will work for four hours on the island and around the mangrove fringes collecting trash and recyclable items.

The Longboat Key Marine division will be patrolling the intracoastal waterway to slow boaters. Volunteers without a boat will be ferried to the island by volunteers with boats and by SBW Board members. Reef Innovations Inc. will once again help the effort with a barge where volunteers can off load their trash. SBW members will pick up bags deposited along the mangrove shoreline by volunteers.

Once back at the Town Boat Ramp volunteers  will load the debris into a truck provided by the Town of Longboat Key. Public Works employees recently did an invasive cleanup and cleared and marked trails for those participating in the cleanup. Volunteers in the past have found a wide range of debris including bed frames, boat cushions, umbrellas, life vests, a boat hull, a tackle box, crab pots, fishing poles and buoys. Most of the debris enters the mangroves on high tides and is trapped there. All plastics and cans will be collected in separate green bags provided by SBW and recycled!

At 11:30 all volunteers will return to the Mar Vista Bayfront where they will be treated to a complimentary lunch.

It took sweat equity

In June 1992, Town Commissioners voted unanimously to purchase the islands for $975,000. Capping off an already successful year, the Sister Keys Conservancy was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award at the White House in Washington, D.C.

The islands sat untouched for 15 years until 2007, when a developer approached the Commission with a mitigation project to offset plans for dredging at a building site on Perico Island. The Town agreed and over the next year all the invasive flora was removed, native species were planted and a two-acre wetland was created. The developer agreed to monitor and maintain the natural health of the islands for five years and in 2012 that responsibility was transferred to the Town of Longboat Key.

In the 11 years since the mitigation the wetlands have experienced a remarkable transformation as mangroves naturally recruited among the planted Spartina grasses now reach over eight feet high. During that time, the islands were “adopted” by Sarasota Bay Watch in an agreement with the Town. The Sister Keys are the largest group of undeveloped islands between Charlotte Harbor and Tampa and represent the remarkable regenerative power of nature.

Faces of the Sister Keys

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have one island in Sarasota Bay without a building?”

That was Rusty Chinnis’ rallying cry when he gathered like-minded people to gather the money and ultimately raised $50,000 to buy the islands just east of Longboat Key. The asking price was $1.5 million.

That’s when Chinnis made a pitch to the town. Because Longboat Key had recently drafted a comprehensive plan and needed more open space, it seemed like a good idea. The deal — using the money Chinnis and his friends raised and funding from the town — was finalized in 1992.

Learn more from this feature: Sister Keys a Longboat treasure, resident says (July 25, 2018)

Here are some of the faces (and the smiles) that made saving Sister Keys a reality.