In 1991, a grass roots organization was formed called the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage or F.I.S.H.. They were interested in the preservation of the heritage of Florida’s traditional Gulf Coast maritime communities. Part of their mission was to promote public awareness and support for protection of the marine resources and fisheries industry of Florida, and to preserve traditional maritime skills and values.
The purchase of a 95 acre parcel of long neglected land in 2000, located along the Sarasota Bay shoreline that also borders Cortez Road to the south and the historic Cortez fishing village to the east was their first big project. Their goal was to restore, conserve and protect the upland and wetland habitats and adjacent waters and return the environmentally sensitive land to its natural habitat. This site had survived for hundreds of years as an important fisheries habitat and was referred to as the “kitchen”. Local Cortez fisherman could find fresh seafood to feed their families and trade with their farmer neighbors when times were economically lean. Unfortunately, over the years the abandoned property had become a dumping site full of invasive plants and trees.
The purchase of the land, part of the Cortez Habitat Restoration Project, was community driven without any government support. Funding for habitat restoration has come from several organizations and government entities including: the community of Cortez, F.I.S.H., Manatee County government, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. A major grant was provided by the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership which led to the creation of a new tidal stream system in the southeastern corner of the preserve.
About 9 acres of habitat have already been created. Three acres will be freshwater wetlands and another three and a half acres will have mangrove wetlands. Plans are currently being developed for the remainder of the Preserve that focus on creating kayak trails and converting two stormwater retention ponds into more natural wetland features.
The project should be finished within three to five years at an anticipated cost of one million dollars.
Image Credit: Sarasota Bay Estuary Program