by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez
photo/video by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Nestled between Purdy Drive and Martha’s Lane, an approximate 12 acres of wetlands have been acquired by Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation with help from the community– connecting a 320-acre wildlife corridor in the heart of Sanibel.
“We launched a campaign to fundraise and our community really stepped up, they believed in the process and how important it is to protect land on Sanibel and in our region,” SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera. “They were incredibly supportive and helped us get to the closing table.”
The process began eight months ago, when SCCF sat down with the land owners. Orgera proposed the idea of conserving the land to the owners who were delighted by the idea.
Orgera then presented the idea to the SCCF Board of Trustees who were equally excited by the idea. Once everyone was on the same page, SCCF and the land owners worked together to create a purchase agreement.
SCCF was granted a year to raise $2 million to cover the cost of the property, but eight months was all it took.
The Board of Trustees ignited the campaign with a financial commitment from each board member. With help from 150 families, SCCF met their goal, and raised 15 percent more for restoration costs. They signed on the property last week.
Roberta and Philip Puschel, longtime supporters of the environment, contributed the lead gift of the campaign granting them naming rights to the new preserve. Other major donors will also get naming opportunities once restoration is underway.
“When we moved to Sanibel 25 years ago, we were thankful for all of the conservation efforts that had preceded us,” Philip Puschel said. “We have been committed over our years here to help pass this sanctuary island to the next generation as beautiful as we found it. We are grateful that we are able to provide this gift.”
Orgera, who described the purchase as the “final piece of the puzzle,” said SCCF is beyond grateful to everyone who played a part in this great triumph for conservation. Thanks to them, land that would have otherwise been developed, will remain in conservation permanently.
About two thirds of Sanibel, a sanctuary island, are under permanent conservation, Orgera explained. This parcel of land was one of the few remaining large pieces of land left to preserve on the island.
“We found that it’s an important wildlife corridor, and that it’s an important series of wetlands. We knew that it was SCCF’s mission to make sure that it’s protected for future generations.”
The acquisition will benefit wildlife and community members alike.
Sanibel’s wildlife will have access to an extensive wildlife corridor running from North to South of the island, that also meets with “Ding” Darling land to the east. Natural corridors allow safer travel for critters.
Beyond safe travel, the protection of wetlands is an important feat. Naturally, these ecosystems serve as important flood mitigators and water filtration systems– positively affecting water quality.
On the human end, community members will be able to enjoy a 1,000+ foot loop trail connected to Sanibel’s shared use path, a welcome plaza, pollinator and sculpture gardens, and a demonstration marsh highlighting the importance of water quality within Sanibel’s freshwater wetlands.
“There’s going to be a public visitation component where we’re going to help people connect to nature, and understand their connection to their personal connection to nature,” Orgera said. “People will be able to really reflect on our work, reflect on nature, and reflect on what we can do to all be better stewards of it.”
Restoration efforts to make this all possible will begin upon closing and are expected to take two years to complete. The plan is to remove invasive exotic plants from the land, which was formerly a non-native nursery, while not affecting the wildlife utilizing it.
Placing the final piece in a puzzle is a moment to celebrate.
“We were all incredibly excited, and just proud of the effort because it is important to who we are as an institution, and so much of what we believe personally as professionals,” Orgera said. “ Our duty is to protect this place for future generations and so every step we get closer is just a beautiful one.”