The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 17 - February 8, 2012

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A healthy bay is everybody's business

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Rusty Chinnis | Submitted
Andy Mele leads the Sarasota Bay Watch board in a
strategic planning session.

Sarasota Bay Watch was formed four years ago at the start of one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. Despite the timing, the organization has thrived and in 2012 is moving forward with an aggressive agenda. Looking back at some of the accomplishments of the past year gives a picture of an organization whose mission has resonated in the community. A few of the organization's accomplishments, made possible by our public and private partners, include:

• Partnered with Longboat Key to adopt the Sister Keys;

• Conducted the Third Annual Sister Keys clean up;

• Made bay scallop restoration our legacy program;

• Held the Fourth Annual Scallop Search;

• Partnered with the Sarasota Yacht Club, raising over $14,000 for scallop restoration;

• Began our restoration efforts by breeding and releasing four million scallops in Sarasota Bay.

• Partnered with the Sarasota Sailing Squadron for six educational displays on City Island;

• Partnered with Save Our Seabirds, Florida Audubon and the Sarasota Sailing Squadron conducting the Third Annual Monofilament Cleanup of bird nesting rookeries;

• Partnered with the Riverview High School Honor Society to clean up Skier's Island;

• Initiated the creation and printing of "What the Heck Is That? A Field Guide to the Treasures of the Gulf Coast;"

• Contracted with Ronda Ryan, a tireless volunteer and organizer of the highly successful Scallopalooza, and an interim Executive Director, Andy Mele. Mele was the head of Clear Water, a New York based environmental organization credited with cleaning up the Hudson River. Mele is in the process of professionalizing the organization. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Elizabeth Ordway Dunn Foundation for generous grants that helped us contract Mele and Ronda Ryan.

• Grew the board with the addition of Dr. Michael Crosby, senior vice president for research at Mote Marine Laboratory and Jeff Birnbach, managing director of ROBRADY Capital LLC and past commodore of the Sarasota Yacht Club.

With the help and vision of Mele and the board, Sarasota Bay Watch conducted a strategic planning session at Mote Marine Laboratory in early January. It was an exercise intended to guide SBW's evolution for 1 to 2 years.

Attendees of the planning session identified five principal groupings of direct strategic initiative, in priority order:

1. Scallop (and other species) restoration;

2. Habitat restoration (upland and aquatic);

3. Education programs (all ages);

4. Environmental Education Center – acquire, staff, program;

5. Seawall and reef enhancement (nursery functions).

The group also assessed the internal strengths and weaknesses of SBW, the external opportunities and challenges or threats, and listed numerous operational methods to achieve meaningful progress in those areas.

The participants agreed that a reasonable stage of progress after two years would be to have four full-time staff, including an executive director, a director of development and marketing, a director of education programs and a director of species and habitat

programs. It was further decided that Sarasota Bay Watch should be organized in three operational segments or departments; including species and habitat restoration, education and administrative which be an umbrella for development, marketing and communications.

It was agreed at the planning session that a working group would be established to hone the ideas into an actionable plan. The first working group held a two-hour meeting last week.

Sarasota Bay's waters are clear, sea grass beds are healthy and growing, and there are far fewer sources of pollution going into the bay. Despite these promising conditions, scallops, fish populations and diversity remain low. Sarasota Bay Watch wants to help address these issues and others that advance our mission.

If you're not already a member, we encourage you to join Sarasota Bay Watch as we embark on a voyage of discovery, vigilant awareness and revival. It will be a journey filled with deep rewards. We hope you'll come aboard for the ride, and we look forward to meeting you at one of our events.

For information or to join, go to A healthy bay is everybody's business.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper