Reel Time: Oyster River Ecology moving restoration forward

Reel Time: Oyster River Ecology moving restoration forward
The Robinson Preserve Expansion turned legacy agricultural land into a mosaic of uplands and wetlands to benefit birds and fish populations like snook and tarpon. All work was done with volunteers. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

I first met Damon Moore at a Sister Keys Cleanup in 2010 when we were introduced by Ann Hodgson of Audubon. Moore worked in environmental consulting for seven years at Stantec before joining Manatee County. In his words, “I loved challenging habitat restoration projects where good problem-solving and project design skills would result in high-quality, cost-effective projects. I was blessed to have the opportunity to work on Manatee County projects like Perico Preserve, Ungarelli Preserve, the Robinson Preserve expansion and Tom Bennett Park as a consultant charged with designing the restoration plans for those properties. I found my niche.”

Moore has high praise for his mentor Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County’s director of natural resources. “As a consultant, I saw something in him that I was drawn to; Charlie always found a way to move high quality environmental enhancement projects forward, regardless of the challenges. He’s creative and pragmatic and I knew he had big plans for the next 10 years. I wanted to play a direct role managing the implementation of those projects. I joined Charlie’s department and spent the next decade working on some of the most impactful projects in the region.”

When the Robinson Preserve expansion was functionally complete, Moore wanted to branch out and sharpen his skillset by taking on a more diverse geographic range of projects. He found that at Environmental Science Associates, but during a brief tenure there, he said, “I realized the area I call home needed more environmental benefit projects.” That was challenging to facilitate as a consultant, so Moore decided to form a non-profit he would call Oyster River Ecology (ORE) to bring more projects to the Suncoast.

The name ORE is an homage to the Manatee River, historically known as the “Oyster River.” Moore’s understanding of the concept of shifting baselines is a loss of perception of change that occurs when each generation redefines what is “natural.” Moore explains, “To the detriment of residents today and all generations to follow, the prolific oyster beds of the Oyster River were harvested to depletion, but the good news is that restoration projects combined with wise management practices can bring some of that abundance back.” Ultimately, that is Moore’s passion, and his extensive knowledge of restoration practices and proven performance combine to provide hope to all who value the amazing flora and fauna of the Suncoast. ORE recently received its 501(c)(3) designation from the state. Moore is now finalizing the organization’s website and reaching out to the many philanthropic organizations with which the Suncoast is blessed.

Moore currently serves as president of the Manatee Fish and Game Association, where, among many other environmental initiatives, he helped shepherd the passage of the Manatee County land and water referendum, which passed with a 71% vote. The referendum will result in $50 million worth of funding for conservation projects in the county. I and many other anglers and citizens who have seen first-hand the decline of water quality, habitat, and bird and fish populations are excited at the prospect of ORE. Its focus on restoration projects is essential to a region whose baselines are a foundation of the local economy and are critically endangered.