Sanibel Captiva Chamber President John Lai, second from left, sits on a panel with SCCF Rae Ann Wessel, third from left, and two other experts at the Everglades Coalition Conference in Duck Lake, Fla.
Sanibel Captiva Chamber President John Lai, second from left, sits on a panel with SCCF Rae Ann Wessel, third from left, and two other experts at the Everglades Coalition Conference in Duck Lake, Fla.

The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce continues to be a part of the fight to save our ecosystem and tourism economy as an advocate on behalf of the entire island business community. In the summer of 2018, two concurrent harmful algae blooms precipitated an unprecedented fish kill and nearly destroyed the islands’ tourism economy.

“It quickly became clear that we, as a Chamber, had to do something and felt advocacy is the best thing we can do,” said Chamber President John Lai, who has traveled to Tallahassee on numerous occasions and was part of a panel at the 34th annual Everglades Coalition Conference in January, the biggest in its history.

Lai has been presenting compelling data on the economic impact of the water crisis to island businesses, which collectively reported millions of dollars in lost revenue. Poor water quality remains a threat to the $3 billion in annual revenue generated by local tourism. “The health of our ecosystem and economy are inextricably linked,” said Lai.

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel has been a strong advocate on behalf of the severely unbalanced ecosystem. She has tirelessly presented data methodically collected by SCCF marine scientists and was present when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a historic executive order implementing major water policy reforms.

“It’s important we continue to share the adverse economic effect of poor water quality, as well as advocate for these water protection policies and the restoration of the Everglades,” said Lai. “We are grateful to have leaders like Rae Ann, and many others, who help bring changes necessary to protect the natural resources on which our economy and quality of life depend.”

Lai will be a part of the Visit Florida Conference in Tampa, where there will be a meeting with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Wildlife Commission officials. He will travel to Tallahassee twice in February for several legislative meetings and be in Orlando for the quarterly board meeting of the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals. In March and April, he will return to Tallahassee for Florida Tourism Days and the Everglades Action Days.

“It has been and continues to be an honor representing our island business community as a whole,” he said. “Our Chamber Board of Directors deserves a tremendous amount of thanks for their support in this crucial fight.”