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The End of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve?

04/27/2011 at 4:28pm
Estero Bay
The End of the Estero Bay
Aquatic Preserve?

New budget cuts proposed this week by the Florida House and Senate could have far-reaching impacts on the quality of life on this island by spelling the end of management for Lee County's most important natural resource: the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. The Estero Bay Coastal and Aquatic Managed Area (CAMA) was established in 1995 and the information it gathers is crucial to maintaining the vast 11,000 acre watershed that is home to many endangered species and serves as the cradle to our fishing industry.

The cuts call for the closure of six offices statewide, which serve a total of sixteen aquatic preserves. The Department of Environmental Protection's office in Tallahassee sent the following document that describes the impacts that Estero Bay's closure will have:

"Without staff on site the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve's programs will end. Over 20 years of data about water quality in Estero Bay will be abandoned. The current data collectors, which record water quality in the bay at three locations every fifteen minutes, will cease to function.Ten years of data on seagrass monitoring in a particular site will end, endangering the seagrass beds - which are a crucial nursery habitat for fish and shellfish. Professional expertise on environmental impacts will no longer be available to decision makers who plan and govern the surrounding municipalities.”

"A variety of environmental education for boaters, community members, Leadership Bonita, and others will not be available.” "The only rookery monitoring of wading and water birds of its kind in Florida will end. While volunteers may be able to continue recording bird nesting habits on their own, the place based resource management that preserves a pristine area even though it is surrounded by urban and diverse populations will no longer be available. Regulatory permitting programs will continue as they are operated out of a separate area of DEP.”

"Decades longmonitoring of water quality and seagrass beds will be discontinued and the environmental consequences of future events affecting water quality and seagrass beds will occur without professional intervention of any kind. Regulatory operations will continue because they are handled out of a separate DEP office, but environmental management services will not be replaced or absorbed by other programs.”

Terry Cain - who has gotten up before sunrise once a month for the last 7 years to collect water samples from the bay – is outraged.

"I understand that there needs to be cuts, I've had to cut things in my business too and I support that,” she said. "But there has to be another way. We can't afford to put our water quality in jeopardy. What happens when we get red tide? Who are we going to call to find out how bad it is?”

"To put this into perspective, one of the services we will lose is water quality monitoring,” she continued. "Just 12 months ago we had the threat of tar balls on our beach. Many lost work and income for four months. As a community it was very hard to rent a room, sell a house or take a guest fishing without some assurance our water quality was being tested and it was OK. Everyone on this beach is connected to our water quality -it supports our quality of life, our economic basis and our businesses. Who is going to monitor the sea grass beds? Who and what agency is going to support us during the next water issue? Will they be located on the Beach and have first hand knowledge and history of our water quality?”

Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah told us that he is gravely concerned about the potential loss of the Preserve's protectors.

"The total operating costs for the Estero Bay CAMA are only $142,000 a year!” he exclaimed. "This is a very short sighted view for them to take. Estero Bay was the first aquatic preserve established in the state of Florida and for good reason - we are a water dependent community. The quality of that bay affects real estate values, tourism, fishing and quality of life – it's crucial for us to maintain it.”

Judah says the proposed cuts are just the latest effort from a governor and legislature that is determined to destroy all work that has been done to protect our natural resources.

"It appears that Governor Scott and the legislature are hell-bent not just on undermining regulations, but that their actual mission is to destroy all the work that's been done on environmental protection,” he said. "For them to pay lip service that they are concerned about the environment is the height of hypocrisy because their actions say otherwise.”

Judah pointed out Scott's efforts to derail Everglades restoration, repeal the bill requiring inspections of old septic tanks, the mining de-regulation bill that was discussed at the county commission meeting on Tuesday, cuts to the budgets of water management districts and a recently passed bill (HB 239) that directs state agencies and local governments not to enforce federal water quality standards.

"It is so overwhelming in terms of their concentrated effort to destroy everything that's been done or is being worked on as far as environmental protection with the perverted and warped mindset that this will somehow stimulate the economy and create jobs,” he said. "What they don't understand is that having a healthy environment is the basis for a strong economy.”

"We've demonstrated that we can diversify our economy with all the new companies relocating here, and the reason they're coming is because of our natural resources.”

Both Judah and Cain say that anyone who feels as outraged as they do needs to contact Governor Scott's office and members of our local legislative delegation immediately. Time is of the essence, as a vote will likely be held this Tuesday.

"A community that was the reason for Aquatic Preserves all over Florida should be outraged,” said Cain. "In honor of the people who came before us to save the bay in the late 1950's and 1960's we as a community need to stand up and have our voices heard in Tallahassee.”

Keri Hendry

Senators:

Mike Bennett -bennett.mike.web@flsenate.gov

Nancy Detert - detert.nancy.web@flsenate.gov

Lizbeth Benacquisto -benacquisto.lizbeth.web@flsenate.gov

Garrett Richter,richter.garrett.web@flsenate.gov

Representatives: Gary.Aubuchon@myfloridahouse.gov,Doug.Holder@myfloridahouse.govKenneth.Roberson@myfloridahouse.gov, Paige.Kreegel@myfloridahouse.gov, Matt.Caldwell@myfloridahouse.gov, Trudi.Williiams@myfloridahouse.gov, matt.hudson@myfloridahouse.gov, Jeanette.Nunez@myfloridahouse.gov, kathleen.passidomo@myfloridahouse.gov

Cain also suggested emailing theDEP's new Secretary, Herschel Vinyard at herschel.vinyard@dep.state.fl.us.