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Partnership aims to restore estuaries, Everglades

By SANIBEL-CAPTIVA CONSERVATION FOUNDATION - | Mar 2, 2021

SCCF

On Feb. 17, as the cool morning winds blew across San Carlos Bay, a flotilla of boats departed the Punta Rassa boat ramp and headed north towards the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. It was the start of a new partnership between the east and west coasts of Florida aimed at restoring freshwater flows to the Caloosahatchee and the Everglades.

City of Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell and his chief of staff, Abigael Mahony, joined Sanibel Vice Mayor Holly Smith, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera, SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt and SCCF Environmental Policy Director James Evans, along with Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Trust, for a boat tour of the Caloosahatchee Estuary and Pine Island Sound.

The first stop of the tour was at SCCF’s Shell Point RECON — River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network — station located at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee. Evans and Milbrandt provided a brief overview of the water management issues and discussed how RECON data are used by water managers when making decisions that impact the Caloosahatchee. The group also discussed the differences between the east and west coast estuaries.

“A marked difference is the Caloosahatchee system, which needs some freshwater during the dry season to balance salinity within the upper estuary — but not too much water, which can impact organisms like seagrasses and oysters in the lower estuary,” Evans said.

The group discussed the synergy between Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects and the need for additional storage, treatment and conveyance of water south, while recognizing the need to achieve the project objectives outlined in the CERP.

SCCF

After leaving the mouth of the river, the fleet headed northwest into Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass and stopped near a large oyster reef. While anchored along the reef, Milbrandt took a group to explore it, explaining oyster reef ecology and the impacts the freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee are having on the coastal ecosystems of Southwest Florida. Russell took great interest in the west coast issues and discussed opportunities for partnering with Miami to reduce the damaging discharges to the Caloosahatchee — moving more water south, thereby restoring the Everglades ecosystem and helping recharge aquifers for water supply along the lower-east coast.

Before heading back to the dock, the group talked about the many challenges ahead, as well as the opportunities, in working together towards the common goal. The tour participants all felt that it may be the start of a great partnership.