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, and other harmful algal blooms.

START is fortunate to have a Board of Directors with years of experience and unique skills in corporate management, marketing, financial services, water ecology, Master Gardening, bivalve restoration and red tide research.

START is operated on a daily basis by an Executive Committee consisting of the following three Board members:

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.

Lonnie Ready, START Board MemberLonnie Ready, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), developed his lifelong passion for aquatic environments and aquatic biology while growing up in South Carolina. He worked in the aquaculture and ornamental aquatics industries for forty five years. Lonnie served as a past board member and advisor for Project Piaba, sponsored by the New England Aquarium, working with native fishermen along the Rio Negro in Brazil. He is an active Manatee County Master Gardener and assists with agricultural research projects at University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Science’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma as a volunteer. He enjoys spending time outdoors in Florida’s diverse ecosystems.

Charles ReithCharles C. Reith, Vice President, is a restoration ecologist with 45 years of experience restoring ecological productivity to distressed land and waters. His span of activity has included the development and implementation of restoration and, where necessary, decontamination plans for deserts, wetlands, prairies and forests in 20 countries on five continents. He has been a professor at four universities and worked as a technical and management consultant to corporations, municipalities, and government ministries. In Sarasota, Charles has supported START’s participation in the Healthy Ponds Collaborative and he has planned and planted five high-performance microforests, small forests
that divert prodigious volumes of stormwater from potential flooding or nonpoint source pollution and provide other ecological benefits such as carbon sequestration, cooling against urban heat island, and provision of wildlife habitat. He serves on the board of his own community and the Palmer Ranch Master Association, and he has advised countless local communities on how to improve the ecological health of their horticultural and native landscapes.

Charles has a PHD in Ecology from the University of New Mexico and has published dozens of technical articles and three books, including Principles and Methods of Reclamation Science.

The remaining Board members are:

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.

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.

START Office Manager Colleen AdlerColleen Adler, Office Manager
Colleen 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.

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