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SCCF staff take on natural resource policy roles

By Staff | May 20, 2020

As the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation awaits the appropriate time to post a job listing for a new natural resource policy director, staff members will carry forth retiring Rae Ann Wessel’s work.

By doing so, the SCCF will continue to leverage research to provide sound scientific grounding in critical discussions on water quality issues, especially Everglades and Caloosahatchee restoration.

Research scientist Rick Bartleson will continue to be the Marine Lab’s lead scientist for collecting and interpreting the data published in the weekly Caloosahatchee Condition Report. Lab Research Associate Leah Reidenbach joins him in collecting and analyzing data, as well as preparing the reports.

Bartleson monitors the SCCF’s River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network RECON sensors for salinity and long-term salinity trends. He also collects water quality data, including chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, and turbidity to calculate light penetration for the Fort Myers, Shell Point and Causeway RECON sites. In addition, Bartleson samples and identifies algal blooms.

Reidenbach uses U.S. Army Corps of Engineers databases to collect data on Lake Okeechobee levels, rainfall, and lake flows. She also collects reports from various agencies and monitors press releases from the USACE, with a focus on cyanobacteria, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge water quality, red tide status, and wildlife impacts.

They interpret the data, along with a group of stakeholders from the refuge, cities of Sanibel and Cape Coral and Lee County to determine the recommended flows from the lake at S-79 to maintain a salinity envelope for tape grass and oysters in the upper and lower estuaries in the Caloosahatchee River.

Thanks to her experience with water quality science and science communication, Reidenbach will also pick up some policy work in advocating for local water quality issues and Everglades issues.

The remaining policy and advocacy side of Wessel’s legacy work will be overseen by Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera, who has a deep history of policy work on levels ranging from local to international. With a doctorate in geography and environmental sciences, he previously worked on the Ending Illegal Fishing Project and Global Shark Conservation teams with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Orgera will work closely with Holly Schwartz, who has served as Wessel’s policy assistant for three years. With a master’s in public administration, she served as assistant county manager at Lee County for 11 years of a 21-year county career. In her last year, Schwartz served as the environmental policy management director.

During the transition period following Wessel’s retirement, she will specifically work on legislative and growth management issues including Eden Oak, Dark Skies and M-CORES Toll Roads.