Sarasota Bay Watch Happenings by Larry Stults August 2015

Sarasota Bay Watch and its Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge partners were thrilled with the outpouring of interest and encouragement for the Living Shorelines Project and the Emerald Necklace Project (go to gulfcoastchallenge.org to see our 3 minute project videos and the other projects). While we are disappointed that these projects were not selected as Finalists in the Innovation Challenge, strong community may keep these projects moving forward on their own merits. We recently hosted Sarasota City administrators and staff on a boat tour to highlight issues and opportunities around these marine improvement projects.

Here is an excerpt from Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin’s August 7, 2015 “BRIEFS from BARWIN”
“Better Days for Our Bays”

Several staff members and I had the opportunity this week to take a boat tour of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay and learn about two compelling initiatives underway focusing on the sustainability of our bays in Sarasota. One initiative involves creating a “living shoreline” along Sarasota Bay at Selby Gardens. We learned from experts with Sarasota Bay Watch and the Sarasota Science and Environment Council that traditional, current energizing seawalls are lessening our bay water quality and stirring bay water turbidity. That, in turn, is inhibiting seagrass growth, which is a key indicator of the bay’s health. In partnership with the Reefball Foundation and Selby Gardens, a proposed solution is the creation of a “living shoreline”, using new shoreline protection techniques which can include energy absorbing Florida-friendly plants, sand and a limited amount of rocks. Located right on Sarasota Bay, Selby Gardens is in an ideal position to demonstrate living shoreline technology and is excited about the possibilities of bolstering the water quality and sustainability of the bay.

The other initiative is called the Emerald Necklace project. This is an exciting plan to revive a chain of small islands, which have become overgrown with invasive and toxic non-native plants. The goal is to remove the exotic foliage, plant Florida-friendly vegetation, and transform the islands into a string of jewels — an Emerald Necklace. Areas on the islands would be opened up to make them accessible for water enthusiasts, particularly paddle boarders and kayakers. It’s envisioned this would become another destination for eco-tourists, who already enjoy significant time in Sarasota.

This long range vision for sustainability and better days for our bays dovetails into plans the City Commission will soon consider to address public education related to climate change. We will propose to the City Commission to allocate a portion of the recent $3 million (less attorney fees) BP settlement toward monitoring sea levels and beach erosion as we begin to plan our response to this important challenge.

The seas are expected to rise 3-4 feet this century. And, living in a state which is the most vulnerable in the nation to flooding, it’s important for the City to learn what actions are necessary to adapt to climate change over the next generation. We look forward to seeing these initiatives take root, leading to even better days for our bays and the Gulf of Mexico.

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