This past Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, a perfect day for fishing or any number of other outdoor activities. On this particular morning, I had the pleasure of spending time with a group of committed community volunteers, including close to 60 high school students, who had chosen to spend this perfect day participating in Sarasota Bay Watch’s annual Skier’s Island clean up. The event, now in its seventh year, is made possible by SBW volunteers and board members as well as students and teachers from Sarasota and Riverview High Schools. Participants from Riverview High School included 41 students from the school’s Marine Club, National Honor Society and Cornerstone Club. They were supervised by Katrin Rudge, the school;s biology teacher and head of the Marine Club. Eighteen students from Sarasota High school were led by Megan Ehlers, the school’s marine biology teacher.
All the participants met at Nora Patterson Park on Siesta Key, where they gathered the equipment for the cleanup as well as tools for removal of invasive species. A number of indigenous plants were also loaded for transportation to the island. Volunteers were transported to Skier’s Island aboard Sarasota High School’s floating classroom, the Carefree Learner, driven by Captain Randall Patterson. Other boats were captained by Sarasota Bay Watch Co-President Captain Steve Martin and board members Pepper Deitz and Ross Windom. Also in attendance were SBW student board members Elizabeth Anderson and Delainey Deitz.
The event, which was originally limited to the clean-up of plastics and other debris, has now evolved to include the removal of invasive species such as carrotwood and Brazilian pepper and the planting of native sea grapes. SBW Administrator Ronda Ryan and her husband and SBW co-founder John Ryan assisted in this process by organizing the necessary equipment including pruners, chain saws, loppers, shovels and plastic bags.
Once on the island the volunteers broke up into teams each with a specific mission. Several groups donned gloves and protective gear and began to thin groves of carrotwood and Brazilian peppers. Leader John Ryan manned the chain saw and monitored volunteers who operated the hand tools including loppers and hand saws.
Once the trees were cut down, their stumps were treated with a glyphosate herbicide that was deployed in spray bottles. Other teams spread out on the island to pick up trash and recyclables. They separated items that were trash from other items that could be recycled. A third group concentrated on planting native sea grape trees. All the trees, potting soil, fertilizer and herbicide were sold to SBW at cost by Albritton’s Nursery. All other supplies were provided at cost by the Sarasota DG ACE Hardware Group. During the morning, it was estimated the work teams cleared three areas in excess of 6,500.00 square feet and planted 12 new plants.
Sarasota Bay Watch President Larry Stults was extremely encouraged with what the volunteers accomplished and with the condition of the island. After seven years of events, the relative cleanliness of the island will let Sarasota Bay Watch reduce the number of people on trash patrol and let them shift the work load towards cutting and spraying invasive plants as well as planting native species. The group also will consider having a cookout and/or provide box lunches for post-work appreciation and bonding. SBW now has the experience, tools, supplies, partners, volunteers, boats and leadership to expand to multiple events during the year.