More than a decade ago, City leaders determined to take a stand against an invasive plant species that is particularly despised for its aggressive growth which ultimately undermines native plant life. Communities throughout Florida have been battling against the The Brazillian Pepper tree for years, but in Sanibel, efforts to gain an upper-hand on that fact-of-fauna-reality has proved successful. Holly Downing, Environmental Specialist with the City of Sanibel’s Department of Natural Resources, says, “We just about have it under control now.”
This month, a final corridor of the Island will meet with eradication efforts that Downing says have been largely bolstered by the City’s offering of free curbside pick-ups for debris along with some underwriting for removal, has essentially helped residents save on clean-up costs and provided incentive to get properties in order prior to code enforcement initiatives.
Of course, Downing says the community may never ever be truly free of the plant, as tell-tale sprouts have to be constantly monitored for and managed, but her feelings are that overall, the problem has gotten well under control in Sanibel.
Eradication of that species is only one activity for a three-member department comprised by Manager Rob Loflin, Enviormental Biologist James Evans and Specialist Downing. In the coming weeks, Sanibel’s Natural Resources team will launch another project in the restoration of an area at Sanibel Bayous, a property associated with the site of a former sewage processing plant (near Wolfert Road).
Downing explains how some years ago, Lee County officials had closed Bowman’s Beach after water and soil tests showed signs of ecoli and fecal contamination. In the effort to identify the source of the problem, it was determined that faulty lining from a retaining pond at the decommissioned facility was the chief culprit. The City determined to fill the pond to spare further seepage, and as luck would have, the dredging at Blind Pass provided the very fill needed to get the job done. In the coming months, Downing says efforts will involve restoring that 4-acre area to a former state of quality and beauty that will be especially appreciated by the birds and wildlife who once enjoyed that habitat. The water will return, without those less-desired components.
Other initiatives underway include steps to complete a comprehensive storm water management plan, the removal of impairments to Sanibel River, native garden consulting and focusing on grant efforts which will help support the totality of work performed by a department in a City where the determination to coexist with nature is not just a mission, but a mandate.
Downing, who holds a Masters Degree in Marine Biology and once worked as tour guide for “Ding” Darling Tour Operator Tarpon Bay Explorers, says she has always loved being outdoors and working outdoors. She says she loves her job, especially in that it gives her an opportunity to make a real difference in terms of providing a service that meets with her environmental sensitivities. She also acknowledges that job satisfaction, associated with that service, is something of a unique experience in Sanibel. “I’ve talked with colleagues in other communities… whose work is sometimes at odds with city thinking or commercial interests. They tell me I’m so lucky because I don’t have to deal with their kind of problems here,” says Downing. When it comes to the importance of the environment, Downing says, “Sanibel gets it.”