homepage logo

Rotary Happenings: SCCF chief executive officer speaks to Rotarians

By Staff | Jun 18, 2019

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club recently had the pleasure of meeting the new Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera. Orgera took over the position at the SCCF from Eric Lindblad, a former San-Cap Rotarian in January.

Orgera is sort of a Southwest Florida homeboy. He grew up in Lemon Bay in Charlotte County. His undergraduate and graduate studies were done at the University of South Florida, with degrees in romance languages and literatures. Orgera also holds a doctorate in geography and environmental sciences from Louisiana State University. Oh, and at some time he received a small Rotary Scholarship for his studies. He taught French and Italian at the university level for eight years.

Orgera then went on to realize that the time he spent on the shores of Lemon Bay were important years for him and his focus turned to marine conservation, water resources and sea life. He was the legislative director of the Coastal States Organization and taught environmental geography courses at George-Washington University. As a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, Orgera worked in the Office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, making him Nelson’s primary expert on ocean and coastal policy.

His previous job before joining the SCCF was at The Pew Charitable Trusts, where he worked on marine conservation projects across the globe. Orgera worked on the Ending Illegal Fishing Project and the Global Shark Conservation teams. He helped ensure global protections for 13 species of sharks and rays.

The SCCF opportunity came along and now Orgera could follow his desire to work for preservation, conservation and protection of natural habitats focusing on environmental sensitive habitats and, importantly, the water resources needed to help with the survival of all – he stepped into the giant rubber boots of Lindblad.

The SCCF is an important part of the Sanibel and Captiva communities by being the steward of our islands’ most important assets, with its dedication to the preservation and conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on the islands and the surrounding watershed. The SCCF has acquired and owns 1,200 acres on Sanibel and 600 acres on Captiva and sensitive land on Buck Key, Albright, York, Coconut and the Long Cut preserve on Pine Island. The SCCF has developed a plethora of programs that are concentrated on the study of and activism on wildlife and habitat management, sea turtle research and monitoring, environmental education and natural resource policy, along with operating a marine research laboratory and the Native Landscapes & Garden Center on Sanibel.

Orgera stepped into his position of chief executive officer just on the heels of last years blue-green algae and red tide water crisis. The whys behind these toxic outbreaks are constantly being studied and both facts and studies have once again come to the forefront of activities at the SCCF, particularly in relationship to wetland development in Florida. Two maps were used in a presentation given by Orgera showing the destruction of the wetlands in Florida from 1996 to now. Collecting data of all sorts regarding immediate water quality from the SCFF’s RECON, which is a network of high-quality, autonomous, in situsensors that can detect the presence of algal blooms and nutrient hotspots.

The extensive watersheds of the Caloosahatchee (1,400 square miles) and Lake Okeechobee (4,400 square miles) each contribute water that flows into the Caloosahatchee estuary and the Gulf of Mexico. Water quality is affected by both lake discharges and runoff from the Caloosahatchee watershed. Over time, these watersheds have changed from low-nutrient loading marshes and wetlands to high loading urban and agricultural land uses. Nutrients increase turbidity and decrease concentrations of dissolved oxygen. In addition, excess nutrients fuel nuisance algal blooms. Losses of low-nutrient adapted communities such as seagrasses have contributed to changes in fish, crustacean and marine mammal communities.

Since joining SCCF, Orgera has attended many meetings with state officials and government agencies to place the SCCF’s information before these governing bodies regarding watershed crisis and fallout water quality. He is called on to present the SCCFs information, along with many partnering agencies studies conducted in field research on water quality in around our islands. How land development and the loss of Florida wetlands could have contributed to this throughout the Florida wetlands and on the impact of losing wetlands to development throughout the state. The use of scientific information and political persuasion can and must make a change for the positive in slowing down the destruction of our natural wetland filtering system.

Since Florida became a state, total wetland area has decreased by approximately 44 percent. If you want to stop flooding, stop filling in wetlands and allow the natural wetlands do their job. Will the construction of the C-43 Reservoir – the West Basin Storage Reservoir – in Hendry County help with flood water storage who knows? Let’s all support the work being done at the SCCF and its research and studies of how to solve environmental problems – one acre, one marine mile at a time. Let’s keep a wary eye focused on the polluters of the Caloosahatchee. They can explain all they want to, but until they do something positive toward a solution, they are playing a waiting game on how long and how impactful our water quality problems will be for us in the future.

For information about the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, visit sanibelrotary.org or www.facebook.com/sancaprotary. The club meets every Friday at 7 a.m. at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, at 949 Sand Castle Road, Sanibel; visitors are welcome to attend.