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SCCF, Sanibel Sea School to merge efforts in new year

By Staff | Dec 5, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Sanibel Sea School Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr. Ryan Orgera

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Sanibel Sea School will begin 2020 as a united force to better conserve the local coastal ecosystems.

“This announcement is great news. In so many ways, it strengthens our ability to serve our wildlife, our water quality and our community; that’s our role – to serve the community through natural resource conservation,” SCCF Chief Executive Officer Dr. Ryan Orgera said. “Starting Jan. 1, the Sanibel Sea School will become SCCF’s education department.”

Sanibel Sea School Executive Director Dr. Bruce Neill echoed that sentiment.

“We can best support nature and serve our community with a single unified voice, broadcast across multiple wavelengths, to promote natural resource conservation,” he said.

With the merger, Neill will serve as SCCF’s director of education.

Founded in 1967, SCCF blends success in advocacy and habitat preservation, with increasingly more attention on water quality through its Marine Laboratory. The Sanibel Sea School has become known for its focus on experiential education. As a combined non-profit, they will better serve the community.

“Our plan is to develop more terrestrial education programs based on the Sea School’s unique approach to experiential learning,” Orgera said. “We have a lot of amazing scientists on our staff who are very dedicated to their research. Having a more effective way to share their work with the public is exciting.”

Over the years, the Sanibel Sea School has welcomed people of all ages and walks of life to become part of an “Ocean Tribe.”

“We make field-based learning fun and meaningful – from squid dissections and seine netting for seahorses, to surfing and kayaking,” Neill said. “Many people fear the ocean, so we help them experience it in a rich, safe and meaningful way that builds a lasting connection to nature.”

For SCCF, the timing was right with a new chief executive officer at the helm since January. Orgera, who grew up on Lemon Bay in Charlotte County, has a dedicated and enthusiastic approach to conservation and relates to the driving concept behind the Sanibel Sea School.

“We see a terrific benefit for operating more effectively through the blending of our infrastructure, board expertise and staff abilities,” Orgera said.

The union also will result in more effective communication with the public on science-based conservation.

“Thanks to SCCF, reputable, respected marine science is taking place on our islands,” Neill said. “We are excited to help translate that pertinent information in ways to help our citizens become better stewards of the environment and to have a more meaningful and examined experience in this community.”

Presently, Sanibel and Captiva are experiencing real water challenges.

“Joining forces is what’s best for the future of our coastal ecosystems,” Orgera said. “The idea of combining with the Sea School started as a conversation of how to operate more efficiently and turned into a very practical and potent way to better fulfill our very complementary missions.”

Following the intensity of the 2018 red tide and the simultaneous blue-green algal bloom, the time for attention to water quality has never been more apparent. The islands’ shores and the surrounding watershed help drive Lee County’s $3 billion tourism economy and are praised for their natural beauty.

“We believe that if people fall in love with the ocean, they will protect it,” Neill said.

Both Orgera and Neill voiced excitement about having a partnership that blends the many facets of conservation under a single administrative roof.

“Ryan is very passionate and strategic. We have similar approaches to leadership. We respect and listen to our staff, and we value them greatly,” Neill said. “I feel good about growing the Sea School’s special style of marine science education under the SCCF umbrella. We believe this is the most sustainable future for the Sanibel Sea School, and one that will ensure that our programs continue for years to come.”

Coastal Watch, an advocacy arm of the Sanibel Sea School, also will become part of the SCCF.

“Coastal Watch will help us take on a deeper role in promoting eco-friendly lifestyles,” Orgera said. “We want to help our residents and visitors find ways they can help serve the environment in a very local and meaningful way.”