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Coastal Keepers to focus on water quality, ocean conservation

By Staff | Nov 22, 2017

Coastal Keepers, a business reorganization of Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, has rebranded to focus on water quality and ocean conservation, as well as red tide.

“This is the START you know, but really improved and really focused on our islands,” President Dr. Bruce Neill said. “We are forming a local partnership that makes sense for everyone. We are trying to be more sufficient, so donated support goes more to the cause and less to the machine behind the cause. It’s a tried and proven local organization that has a new name.”

He said START is a not-for-profit organization based in Sarasota that has subchapters, which included a Sanibel-Captiva chapter for at least 10 years.

“The state organization of START seems to be contracting and really the Sanibel Captiva chapter of START was really driving the whole state,” he said. “We debated this for a long time and decided why don’t we go off on our own and make our own thing on Sanibel. As a conservation organization, we very much believe that we ought to have this lean business aspect as possible, so that we can spend more of our money on conservation. We realized our very best way to trim down the business is to partner with the Sanibel Sea School.”

Over the years, Neill said it has become hard to dedicate an organization to red tide because when there is a bloom everyone wants to know the solution, compared to the years when it is not present the money and interest disappears.

“We changed the mission of Coastal Keepers to be more of a water quality and ocean conservation institution in general, in addition to red tide,” Neill said, adding the mission is “to create conservation initiatives that promote and improve the future of marine resources, and coastal heritage.”

The change resulted in being renamed to Coastal Keepers, which is governed by a group of nine community members, including such members from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation marine lab and Captains for Clean Water.

“Coastal Keepers is now the conservation initiative arm of the Sanibel Sea School. Coastal Keepers will continue to have a fundraiser and have initiatives and the direction of those initiatives will be determined by the advisory board of Coastal Keepers,” Neill said. “It’s a really exciting partnership for all of us.”

Coastal Keepers funds a position at the Sanibel Sea School and has for a number of years to enact the initiatives.

“It’s a volunteer organization. Most of the people on the board are working, or busy, so we have all of these ideas that we would like to do locally, but we did not have the time. We said ‘you know what we ought to do, we should just have an employee.’ It made sense at that time to essentially have Sanibel Sea School write a grant to fund an employee, by at that time START, and we will continue to do that,” Neill said. “That employee is who makes all those initiatives happen.”

The Sanibel Sea School just hired Sam Lucas, the new conservation initiative coordinator and marine science educator. The Baltimore, Maryland native started Nov. 1.

“From a Sanibel Sea School perspective, we teach about sustainability and we have always partnered with what is now Coastal Keepers,” Neill, who is also the executive director of the Sanibel Sea School, said. “Now, we can more own it for the young kids. We can say we learned about this and this is how we can help solve the problem. It can really be integrated activism into education,.”

Coastal Keepers’ vision is “a community that perpetuates a coastal legacy for future generations.”

“There is a lot we can do in our own backyard to enrich our community, to try to conserve and help our heritage move forward on a very local scale that are really for the most part limited to Sanibel and Captiva,” Neill said.

One example is the seafood savvy initiative to help restaurants serve more sustainable seafood. They also started BYOB initiative to help reduce the number of plastic bags in the ocean.

“Conservation is really allowing people to lead their lives in a more sustainable way, so they feel better about what they are doing, they are a proactive contributing person to our community, to the ocean and their acts of stewardship,” he said. “We recognize that we can’t tell people to stop driving cars and stop using electricity. However we can find a few things that we can do to make us feel better about what we are doing and that is exactly what the BYOB is.”

When BYOB begun, START approached the City Council for a memorandum for plastic bags to make it illegal to have plastic bags on Sanibel, or to levy a tax on plastic bags.

“Both of those things have worked in other countries. Both of those things have worked in other states. They work really well. However, in the state of Florida there is a constitutional amendment that says no municipality may alter packaging,” Neill said. “We decided why don’t we spend our money and buy a ton of bags and do events with Bailey’s and our other partners and promote the use of it and give people bags.”

So far approximately 15,000 bags have been given away.

The next initiative for Coastal Keepers is to work on plastic straws. Neill said the problem of plastic straws was brought to their attention while the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Turtle Patrol crew were finding large numbers of straws on the beaches near resorts.

“Plastic food container consumption items are the highest amount of plastic in the ocean,” he said.

Coastal Keepers goal is to partner with businesses and find ways that they can profit more from being more sustainable.

Although in the infancy stage, so far, several partners are on board with finding alternatives for plastic straws.

“One of the things that we do for our partner businesses is we buy advertising in the newspaper,” Neill said. “We say ‘Coastal Keepers is working with the following businesses to help promote the sustainability of our marine environment and our island heritage. Please patronize these business if you are so inclined.'”

In addition, Lucas will do the research on how they can procure better alternatives. Neill said she is also tasked with the job to go to the business supplier and ask what alternatives they have for plastic straws.

“Our goal is to help businesses make more money while becoming sustainable,” he said. “Our goal is to be community based conservation initiatives that we can change immediately.”

The annual event held by START, Cracker Fest, has been renamed to The Launch and will be held on March 28. The location will be announced in the near future.

With the reorganization, all the money raised during the fundraiser will stay on the island.