SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, left, and famed activist Erin Brockovich cruise the Caloosahatchee while discussing water quality issues plaguing the region. Photo provided
SCCF Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, left, and famed activist Erin Brockovich cruise the Caloosahatchee while discussing water quality issues plaguing the region. Photo provided

FORT MYERS – Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel and Marine Laboratory Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph. D. provided a water quality briefing cruise Wednesday, Oct. 3, for famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

They spent the morning together on the Caloosahatchee, addressing the issues and challenges to regional water quality resulting from current water management practices.

Milbrandt, captaining the boat, spoke to the data the SCCF Marine Lab scientists are able to gather through their 24/7 RECON water quality sensors and other research on the causes of algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee.

Wessel, who frequently hosts elected officials and government regulators for on-water briefings, presented a historical overview of the channelizing of the Caloosahatchee to Lake Okeechobee and subsequent negative consequences that have threatened the health of the river as well as the Pine Island Sound estuary.

Ms. Brockovich was an engaged and a quick study,” said Wessel.

Brockovich came to see conditions for herself because so many people from South Florida had contacted her.

Her plainspoken passion whipped up the crowd as she cautioned ‘Superman is not coming and I am not Superman, instead each of you have to engage: become informed, show up and demand action. A good place to start is at your own local government meetings. Unless you tell them, they won’t know that you are angry, what you are angry about or the health concerns you have.’ Clearly her enthusiasm and take no prisoners approach empowered the audience to engage,” said Wessel.

Following their briefing cruise, Brockovich and Wessel participated in a Clean Water Panel at the Burroughs Home and Gardens in Fort Myers. Brockovich was enthusiastically received as a hero for her advocacy efforts. Other panelists joining the discussion on regional water quality were John Cassani representing the Calusa Waterkeeper and Daniel Andrews from Captains for Clean Water.

Brockovich, who introduced Wessel at the Clean Water Panel, referred to her as “the Take Charge Marge of the Caloosahatchee.”

Attended by a very large group of concerned citizens, the event was an opportunity to address the water quality challenges plaguing Southwest Florida before a public audience.

If you’re looking for my permission to speak up and speak out, you have it – Speak Out,” said Brockovich before a group of almost 800 attendees.

Priorities raised by the panelists included health concerns and testing resulting from exposure to blue green algae, the need to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee for water treatment, and the inaction by the State to address both blue green algae and red tide.

John Cassani from the Calusa Waterkeeper urged, “We are on the verge of an opportunity – an extraordinary opportunity in six weeks to bring about policy reform. There’s never been more at stake.”

The policies we enact today will impact our kids and definitely our grandkids,” said Daniel Andrews of Captains for Clean Water.

Brockovich urged those who have been impacted health wise by the water quality issues to report their symptoms to her website, as a means to document and share health issues concerned citizens are facing in different locations.

SCCF Business Roundtable members John Lai with the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Richard Johnson of Bailey’s Grocery Store, Chris Davison with Island Inn, and David Schuldenfrei with VIP Realty were among those attending the event.

Erin Brockovich is a consumer advocate and environmental activist. She is best known for her involvement in one of the largest direct-action lawsuits in U.S. history and is the subject of the 2000 film 'Erin Brockovich’.

SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. Through its Marine Laboratory and RECON sensor network, SCCF is the only organization providing 24/7 water quality monitoring at points throughout the Caloosahatchee and the Pine Island Sound estuary.