About Us

START is a 501(c)3 non-profit grass roots organization founded in 1996 on Longboat Key by retired General Jim Patterson and a few other concerned citizens in response to a devastating ten-month long red tide bloom that ravaged a wide area along the West Coast of Florida. START’s name is an out-growth of this trying experience and is derived from the phrase “Solutions To Avoid Red Tide”. Ever since then, START has been at the forefront in securing funding to support scientific research and increase public awareness about the importance of preserving our marine environment.

Vision Statement

START’s vision is to improve the quality of our marine waters through research, public education and programs that restore marine habitats, preserve marine species and promote healthy beaches and coastal waterways.

START is operated by a four-person Executive Committee with a combination of years of business experience and unique skills in corporate management, marketing, financial services, maritime transportation and scientific research.

The members of the Executive Committee are:

Sandy GilbertSandy Gilbert, Chairman, is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.A. in Economics. He is a retired publishing executive who worked for TIME and Smithsonian Magazines in New York for 35 years gaining extensive experience in marketing and communications while conducting business with corporations all over the world. Since retirement, he has served as the Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board on Longboat Key, President of the Public Interest Committee, Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee at Tara Golf & Country Club, Chairman of the Community Affairs Committee of the Tara Master Association and he has been a contributing writer on government affairs for the Longboat Key Observer. In his spare time, Sandy enjoys playing golf, gardening and snorkeling and diving in our coastal waters.
Ed ChilesEd Chiles is a founding board member and past Chairman of START. He is the owner and CEO of the Chiles Group, operating the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Ed is the managing partner for the Pine Avenue Restoration project in the City of Anna Maria. He serves on numerous boards in Manatee County.
Neil UnruhNeil Unruh, Audit Partner and Shareholder at Shinn & Company, earned his B.S. degree from Wichita State University and is a practicing Certified Public Accountant with over 22 years of public accounting experience in audit, review and assurance services. He specializes in government, not-for-profit organizations, foundations, limited scope employee benefit plans and for-profit audit and compliance. He is widely known for his audit expertise and developing strategic plans that drive success. Neil is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA ), the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants ( FICPA ), the Government Finance Officers Association ( GFOA ) and the Florida Government Finance Officers Association ( FGFOA ).
Larry Stults’ family founded Cabbage Key in Boca Grande in 1944, where he discovered the joy of island living and a lifelong love for our waterways. He received his B.A. from New College, Sarasota, FL, where he studied the effects of red tide toxin on sea urchin embryo development. He subsequently earned a Ph.D. in cellular biology from The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, studying symbiotic relationships between crop plants and soil bacteria. After post-graduate research at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA, Larry coupled his science training with a law degree, specializing in biotechnology patent law.


In addition to the Executive Committee, the START Board of Directors is completed by the following people:

Dr. Bruce NeillBruce Neill is the Executive Director and a co-founder of Sanibel Sea School, a non-profit organization dedicated to marine conservation through transformative education. He holds a Ph.D. in conservation biology and left a career in academic biology to work in the non-profit sector of marine conservation. Bruce lives on Sanibel Island, with his wife and daughters; when not in the ocean teaching, he is on or in the ocean recreating. Working for START is just another way that he gives back to the ocean he loves.
George SpollGeorge Spoll is a retired MIT trained architectural engineer / home builder from West Hartford, Connecticut with a background in land development, design, building code administration and housing construction. He served two Connecticut Governors on the Commission for Planning & Zoning and Adaptive Housing for the Handicapped. He has also served as a Vice President of a number of county, state and New England regional building associations and as a Vice President of the National Association of Home Builders. Since retiring to Longboat Key, he has served as Condo President, President of the Federation of LBK Condominiums, VP of the Bay Isles Master Association, a member of the Board of the Public Interest Committee, the Town of LBK Planning & Zoning Board, a Commissioner of the Town for over six years and as its Mayor. He is currently chairing the LBK Revitalization Task Force. In his spare time, George enjoys cruising on his boat and visiting his vacation home in the Adirondacks in New York State.

Scientific Adviser

Dr. Barbara KirkpatrickDr. Barbara Kirkpatrick has been a START member for the last 11 years and has been on the executive committee for the last 7 years.  Dr. Kirkpatrick is a senior research scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory and her research interests are human health impacts from Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Northern Michigan University, a Master’s degree in Education from North Carolina State University, and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Sarasota. Kirkpatrick serves as liaison between START and the research community, has given many public presentations on START’s behalf, and is the secretary for the Executive Committee.  In 2006, Kirkpatrick identified the need for improved reporting of beach conditions, and created the Beach Conditions Reporting System (www.mote.org/beaches). She has been issued a U.S. Patent for the system.Barbara now serves as the Executive Directer of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS).

Honorary Board Member

Ralph WoodringRalph Woodring is the owner of Woodring Enterprises, Inc. that encompasses The Bait Box retail fishing outfitting business and Caloosa Wholesale tackle business on Sanibel Island.  Ralph has been a lifelong resident of Sanibel and is a descendent of fisherfolk that occupied Cayo Costa in the mid-1800’s, and homesteaders that came to Sanibel in the late 1800’s.  Ralph has been a spokesman for water quality issues for many years and founded the Sanibel Captiva Chapter of START, Inc.  The Bait Box hosts an annual cast-net rodeo for the continuance of the ancient art of casting nets. In 2009 and 2010 The Bait Box also hosted a Crackerfest fundraiser dinner for START with plans to make this an annual event.  In his spare time, Ralph enjoys fishing, swimming and reading.

Start Chapters

Manasota (Manatee & Sarasota Counties)  – Sandy Gilbert, President

Lee County – Dr. Bruce Neill, President

To join one of our local Chapters or to participate in a local START event or program, contact Colleen Adler at START Florida at 941-966-3400.