SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program is dedicated to restoring one of our region's most important natural assets – Sarasota Bay. Coming off of a banner 2012, in which the group hosted the inaugural Sarasota Bay Awards, as well as a Sarasota Bay Water Festival, while completing nine major projects, SBEP is again looking forward to big things in 2013, including their schedule of Bay Guardian volunteer events, at which local citizens can donate some time and sweat to preserving local waterways.
Sarasota Bay is one of the 28 national estuaries in the U.S. designated by the U.S. Congress as an “estuary of natural significance.” SBEP is geared toward all manners of improving water quality, increasing habitat and enhancing the area’s natural resources for the use and enjoyment by the community. Since 1989, the group and its partners have had a vision of Sarasota Bay that includes clear waters, healthy habitats and abundant wildlife, while growing the community that takes part in enjoying and preserving the Bay’s resources.
|Naturalist guides with Around the Bend Nature Tours talking to students following a volunteer project to remove evasive species at the Cortez FISH preserve.
The intergovernmental agency routinely partners with Sarasota County, Manatee County, the City of Sarasota, City of Bradenton, the Town of Longboat Key, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the EPA. SBEP works with many other organizations in the public and private sector including government agencies, schools, businesses, and non-profit organizations to find ways in which various stakeholders can work together to be good stewards of our waterways.
In April of 2012, SBEP hosted the inaugural Sarasota Bay Awards Program to acknowledge regional champions of Sarasota Bay. The "Blue Dolphin Award" was presented to Jack Merriam, retired environmental manager for Sarasota County; Martha B. King Middle School in Bradenton; Raindrop Cisterns; Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring; and Charles Edwards, a long -time volunteer member of the SBEP Citizens Advisory Committee.
SBEP also successfully hosted the region’s inaugural Sarasota Bay Water Festival. The free public event included more than 60 sponsors and exhibitors from both the public and private sector. Around 3,000 people attended. The event returns this year on Saturday, November 2 at Ken Thompson Park in Sarasota. SBEP is again the host sponsor of the regional event, which is expected to be even bigger than last year.
SBEP held seven Bay Guardian volunteer events at parks and preserves in Sarasota and Manatee County in 2012. Projects were completed at Neal Preserve, Emerson Point Preserve, North Lido Beach Park, Ken Thompson Park, F.I.S.H Preserve, Quick Point Nature Preserve, and North Water Tower Park. The 410 Bay Guardian volunteers contributed approximately 522 volunteer hours during the year. 2013 Bay Guardian volunteer events include February 23 at Baywalk Creek near New College of Florida, March 9 at Jiggs Landing in Manatee County, April 6 at Bowlees Creek, and May 4 at Ungarelli Preserve.
|A mother and daughter volunteer at a Bay Guardian event at North Lido Beach Park.
A total of 38 PIER field trips were conducted for 1,616 students and 226 adult chaperones within the Sarasota Bay Watershed last year. PIER is an acronym for Protection, Involvement, Education and Restoration. The PIER program was launched in 2003 in collaboration with Around the Bend Nature Tours. Through PIER, more than 40,000 area students have received education on the importance of local waterways.
SBEP also completed a series of workshops on tidal creeks and submitted an application to EPA with the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and Tampa Bay Estuary Program, and worked with New College of Florida to host the Sarasota Bay Watershed Symposium last February. The public event brought together scientists, resource managers, elected representatives, educators, and local residents for discussions, networking, and learning opportunities. The group also provided science-based expertise to support long-term scallop seeding projects in the area, part of an effort to reestablish scallop populations in Sarasota Bay.
SBEP will conduct phase 2 of an Economic Valuation Study of Sarasota Bay this year, focusing on recreational use. Phase 1 of the study determined the total capitalized value of single family properties on or near Sarasota Bay to be $3.6 billion. The second phase is expected to be completed this fall and will focus on data pertaining to how people access and use the resources associated with Sarasota Bay.
SBEP is currently accepting applications for members of their Citizens Advisory Committee. The SBEP CAC provides citizen input to the organization, while developing action plans to communicate SBEP activities. The committee also helps to promote the SBEP mission and programs within the community and strives to influence public policies that have an impact on the Bay and its resources (click here for an application).
Whether it's the CAC, participating in Bay Guardian volunteer events or helping at public events by volunteering with their Public Outreach Support program, there are plenty of ways you can get involved with SBEP. Check out Sarasota Bay Today, a website featuring interviews with more than a dozen professionals associated with Sarasota Bay, including the newest with David Pilston, CEO of Save Our Seabirds. Plus, check out the main SBEP website for plenty of information on everyday ways that we can all be better guardians of our most vital natural resource – our water.