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Wessel announces upcoming retirement from SCCF

By Staff | Mar 13, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Rae Ann Wessel

Rae Ann Wessel, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s natural resource policy director since 2006, announced her plans to retire in May as she wraps up the “highlight of her 42-year career.”

“The past 14 years in policy have been full of challenges,” she said. “It’s been an engaging, exciting and exasperating experience, which I have enjoyed and from which I have grown in so many ways I never imagined.

Wessel, who also served as a trustee from 2004-2006, joined the organization at a time when water quality issues were increasingly becoming a regional focus. A limnologist and marine scientist, she has since earned a statewide reputation for her science-based policy, advocacy and outreach work.

“Thanks largely to Rae Ann, SCCF is known for leveraging research to provide sound scientific grounding in critical discussions on water quality issues, especially Everglades and Caloosahatchee restoration,” Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera said. “While I hate to see her go, she’s leaving us primed to bring a new policy director into a position that is well established and well respected.”

Over 20 years ago, Wessel was named “Conservationist of the Year” for her commitment to the environmental integrity of Southwest Florida by Audubon of Southwest Florida. In 2013, she received the Citizen of the Year Award for her work as a “Tireless Scientist for the Environment” from the Sanibel Committee of the Islands.

Wessel has an upbeat attitude about the timing of her departure from the SCCF.

“I feel good about the accomplishments I have been able to deliver; progress on raising awareness of the Caloosahatchee from its ecological niche, its functions, services and restoration needs, to its history and the role it has served throughout this nation’s past,” she said.

She is also positive about efforts to advance Everglades restoration and proud to have been part of the history that brought them about.

“I’ve seen projects started and coming to completion, connecting our community residents, visitors and local economy to restoration efforts, wetland and habitat protections,” Wessel said.

Most importantly to her as an advocate, she sees that her work will continue, ensuring a legacy of conservation, for which she was awarded one of 50 “MAKERS: Women Who Make Southwest Florida” in 2013 by WGCU, the regional PBS and NPR station.

“I’m confident that this is a good time to hand off the baton to the next generation to take over where I am leaving off to continue our progress,” she said. “Today the trifecta of leadership, funding and momentum make this a great time of progress and hope.”

Over her four-decade tenure in Southwest Florida, Wessel has perhaps gained best recognition as a diehard supporter of the Caloosahatchee, with intimate knowledge of its oxbows, history and cultural heritage. She has built tremendous support for sustainable solutions for it and its role in the overall Greater Everglades ecosystem.

Wessel will present her last official Everglades Update, joined by other panelists, on April 23 at The Community House on Sanibel. In addition, only a few seats are left on each of her final two Caloosahatchee and Oxbow Cruises, set for April 3 and May 9. For tickets, visit Eventbrite/SCCF.