Partnership Aims to Restore Estuaries, Everglades

provided by The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation

The cool morning winds blew across San Carlos Bay on Wednesday, Feb. 17, when a flotilla of boats departed the Punta Rassa boat ramp and headed north towards the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. It was the start of a new partnership between the east and west coasts of Florida aimed at restoring freshwater flows to the river and the Everglades.

Commissioner Ken Russell, representing the City of Miami’s District 2, and his Chief of Staff Abigael Mahony, joined City of Sanibel Vice Mayor Holly Smith, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation CEO Ryan Orgera, SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, and SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans, along with Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Trust for a boat tour of the Caloosahatchee estuary and Pine Island Sound.

The first stop of the tour was at SCCF’s Shell Point RECON (River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network) station located at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. Evans and Milbrandt provided a brief overview of the water management issues and discussed how RECON data are used by water managers when making decisions that impact the Caloosahatchee. The group also discussed the differences between the east and west coast estuaries.

“A marked difference is the Caloosahatchee system, which needs some freshwater during the dry season to balance salinity within the upper estuary — but not too much water, which can impact organisms like seagrasses and oysters in the lower estuary,” said Evans.

The group discussed the synergy between Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects and the need for additional storage, treatment, and conveyance of water south, while recognizing the need to achieve the project objectives outlined in the CERP.

After leaving the mouth of the river, the fleet headed northwest into Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass and stopped near a large oyster reef. While anchored along the reef, Milbrandt took a group to explore it, explaining oyster reef ecology and the impacts the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on the coastal ecosystems of Southwest Florida. Commissioner Russell took great interest in the west coast issues and discussed opportunities for partnering with the City of Miami to reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee — moving more water south, thereby restoring the Everglades ecosystem and helping recharge aquifers for water supply along the lower-east coast.

Before heading back to the dock, the group talked about the many challenges ahead, as well as the opportunities, in working together towards this common goal. The tour participants all felt that this may be the start of a great partnership.

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