The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 8 - November 12, 2008

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Bay Buddies clean FISH Preserve

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PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS Bay Buddies, formed by school teacher
Rick Smith to get his students involved in environmental service
work, now includes students, parents, teachers and park rangers.

On Saturday Nov. 7, Rick Smith brought his team of environmentally minded students to the FISH (Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage) Preserve in Cortez for a day of trash clean up and removal of invasive species. The Bay Buddies, supported by the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program was joined by members of FISH, the Sarasota and Manatee County Audubon Society, local citizens and Karen Fraley, of Around the Bend Nature Tours. In a morning of hard work and camaraderie the participants worked on the FISH Preserve property which is being developed into what will be one of the premier natural areas in Manatee County.

FISH was formed by members of the Cortez commercial fishing community to "preserve the natural habitat upon which the commercial fishing industry depends." It was an ambitious task for a small community which successfully raised funds for and purchased the 100 acres of environmentally sensitive land immediately east of Cortez.

For hundreds of years this site has survived as an important fisheries habitat for the section of Sarasota Bay south of Cortez fondly referred to as "the kitchen." It was here the locals could find a bounty of fresh seafood to feed their families and trade with their farmer neighbors when times were economically lean.

The original FISH property owner sold in the 50’s and the property had been slated for development for years. Funds for the first $60,000 mortgage payment on the land were raised from donations made by citizens and conservation minded companies.

A succession of annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festivals (, traditionally held in February of each year, and donations from more than 300 members and a host of friends all over the country enabled F.I.S.H. to pay off the mortgage in 2005. No Federal or State funds were used in the effort. With such a strong financial base and the anticipated community support, the project goal became a reality.

The Bay Buddies

The Bay Buddies program is the brainchild of school teacher Rick Smith, who formed the group to get his kids involved in environmental service work. From the beginning, the group’s philosophy has been to get everyday people involved in making a difference in their community.

The success of the group’s efforts is evidenced by the 140 plus people that often come out to participate. The groups usually include the students, parents, teachers and park rangers, who work to remove exotic plants, litter, and to plant new trees at the Bay Buddies’ events.

Despite the large turn-outs, Smith knows that the Bay Buddies, local communities, and organizations like the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program and the newly formed Sarasota Bay Watch can do an even better job.

According to Smith, "I really think we (SBW and SBEP) need to do a better job of reaching out to the community, students on my end, as a whole. While I can rally a hundred or more students, they all come from 2 or 3 schools and none come out of Sarasota County, except the 2 that are also part of my Reef Rakers dive team."

Smith and his ambitious project deserve the support of the governments, people and environmental groups in the Sarasota Bay region. If your organization or group would like to get involved with the Bay Buddies contact!

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