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 in the forefront in securing funding to reduce excess nutrients in our coastal waters and increase public awareness about the importance of preserving our marine environment.

Mission Statement

Working to reduce excess nutrients in our waterways that feed red tide.

START is fortunate to have a Board of Directors with years of business experience and unique skills in corporate management, marketing, financial services, maritime transportation, and scientific research.

START is operated on a daily basis by an Executive Committee consisting of the following four Board Members.

Sandy GilbertSandy Gilbert, Chairman/CEO, 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.

Sherry Coles, Treasurer earned a degree (BBA – Accounting) at the University of Cincinnati before graduate school at Fordham University (MBA – Finance) and her professional career took her across the United States. She has lived and worked in a number of places from San Francisco to Manhattan before finally settling in Florida in 2014. Her extensive professional career was largely spent in Manhattan working for major accounting and money center banks including Arthur Andersen, JP Morgan, Citibank, BONY and Wells Fargo. More recently Sherry came to Florida to assist the FDIC as a Lead Investigator in closing down insolvent banks during the last financial crisis.

While officially retired, Sherry continues to work for several high net worth clients providing them with business as well as personal tax preparation and advice. She has served on the Boards of The Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, The Center against Domestic Violence in Brooklyn, Women in Management, Sarasota Newcomers Club, Palm Aire Women’s Club, and the Broadmoor Pines HOA here in Sarasota. Sherry continues to be an active volunteer locally working with the Humane Society, Greyhound Rescue, The Healing Foundation, and Designing Women’s Boutique. In her spare time, Sherry enjoys traveling, volunteering, and cooking for friends as well as the challenges of golf.

Charles ReithCharles Reith, PhD  is a retired restoration ecologist with experience in Africa, Europe and the Americas. His wetlands reconstruction has focused on the reestablishment of valuable ecosystem services such as water purification, flood control, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat. Clients for his wetlands planning and management have included universities, resource firms and municipalities, all of whom have sought to improve their land resources not only on their own properties, but also on the impact to the ecological health and productivity of the larger ecosystem. Charles has a Ph. D. in Ecology from the University of New Mexico and 40 years of experience in industry and academia. He has been a professor at four universities and advisor to international corporations and ministries in over a dozen countries. He has published three books including Principles and Methods of Reclamation Science, a comprehensive compendium of strategies to restore ecological vitality to landscapes disturbed by fire, flooding or human activity such as mining and forestry.

He currently serves as the Science Advisor for Southface Sarasota at the Florida House, a Board member of the Sarasota Urban ReForesters and a member of the Sarasota Bay Watershed Plan Update Stakeholder Advisory Group.

Charles and his wife Penny are enthusiastic naturalists on land and sea. They especially enjoy birding as part of their international business and recreational travel. Charles has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but presently prefers to limit his sparring to wordplay with those who haven’t yet grasped the importance of improving the quality of our coastal waters.

START Program Manager Dr. Eileen MahoneyDr. Eileen Mahoney has worked for more than thirty years in the environmental field. As Director of Superfund for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, she managed a large team of environmental experts, across many scientific disciplines. Their studies identified the human health and ecological impacts of multiple sources of contaminants on two complex estuarine systems in NYC which were listed as Superfund sites by EPA. These data have been presented at numerous technical conferences and in peer-reviewed publications. She was also responsible for establishing wetlands in Newtown Creek, a highly urbanized NYC estuary, for the first time in more than 50 years. Prior to her time at NYCDEP, she had her own consulting firm for 20 years and provided environmental consulting services to the US Navy, US Air Force, EPA, and many private clients. She received a Ph.D. in Genetics from Michigan State University, and a BA in Biology from SUNY Buffalo. Although retired, she continues to advise a small group of communities in the northeast on environmental issues.

START Office Manager Colleen AdlerColleen Adler, Office Manager, graduated with a B.A. from Boston College and a M.Ed. from Seton Hall University. Prior to moving to Florida from N.J., she worked for many years as a Division Director in Bergen County government. In that position she managed addiction and DUI programs in the criminal justice system. While living in N.J. she served on many Boards including Chairing the Board of Directors of the Bergen County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Spring House for Women. She was also appointed to a statewide task force whose job it was to revamp the DUI education and treatment system in N.J. She served for many years on the Bergen County Highway Safety Board and was the Vice-President of the N.J. Association of Intoxicated Driver Resource Centers. Colleen is presently employed by START as the Office Manager. In that capacity she manages the membership database, writes the monthly newsletter, keeps the START website updated, oversees all grant correspondence and communication with members and the public.

The remaining Board members are:

Ed ChilesEd Chiles is a founding board member and past Chairman of START. He is the owner 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.

Dr. Barbara KirkpatrickDr. Barbara Kirkpatrick has been the Executive Director for GCOOS since 2014. Prior to taking the management position at GCOOS, she was a member of the Board of Directors. She has over 35 years of experience in human and environmental epidemiology focusing on harmful algal blooms and human health. She has over 40 peer reviewed publications, is the co-chair of the National Harmful Algal Bloom steering committee, and the co-chair for the IOOC glider task team.

Ernesto Lasso de la Vega - START Board MemberErnesto Lasso de la Vega, born in Panama, became a naturalized US citizen in 1998.  He earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of Panama, a Master Degree in Science and Aquaculture from Auburn University and his Educational Doctorate Degree from the University of Central Florida. Ernesto has been working at the Lee County Hyacinth Control District in Fort Myers, Florida since 1991 as a biologist controlling aquatic weeds, managing the water quality laboratory, and conducting research.

He is an active member of a number of professional organizations including the Florida Lake Management Society, the Florida Aquatic Plant Management Society and the World Aquaculture Society. He is presently serving as a member of the Citizen and Technical Advisory Committee of the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership in Florida and the Advisory Board of the Florida Sea Grant Program. He is a Board Member with the Gulf Shellfish Institute and the Sarasota Bay Watch. Ernesto also has been teaching as an adjunct professor for the past 25 years in environmental science, biology and microbiology at Florida South Western University, Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University.

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 HomeBuilders. 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 of the Board of the Public Interest Committee, the Town of LBK Planning & Zoning Board, an originating member of the Town Revitalization Task Force, a Commissioner of the Town for six years where he has been elected as the current Mayor.

Click Here -> To learn more about what START is doing to help reduce excess nutrients in our waterways.

Membership Areas

  • Boca Grande
  • Bonita Springs/Ft. Myers Beach
  • Collier County
  • Englewood
  • Manasota (Manatee & Sarasota Counties)
  • Pinellas, Sanible-Captiva

For questions about START’s programs, contact Colleen Adler, our Office Manager, at (941) 951-3400 or by using our Contact Form