Reel Time: Sister Keys cleanup scheduled

Reel Time Sister Keys Cleanup
An aerial view of the Sister Keys shows the north island and the created wetlands. - Rusty Chinnis

Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) will be conducting their Annual Sister Keys Cleanup on Saturday, May 4. The event is a collaboration with the Town of Longboat Key and the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant. Volunteers organized by SBW Events Coordinator Ronda Ryan will work for four hours on the island and around the mangrove fringes collecting trash and recyclable items.

The Sister Keys were originally slated for development in the early 60s and were once again threatened in 1989 when they went on sale for $1 million.

That spurred a group of citizens to form the Sister Keys Conservancy in an attempt to buy and preserve the islands as a nature preserve. After three years of lobbying, bake sales and two music in the park series the group had only raised $50,000 towards the $1 million sale price. They then went to the Town of Longboat Key, which needed additional open space for its comprehensive plan. The Town consummated the sale in 1994 assuring the keys would not be developed.

The islands underwent a million-dollar mitigation in 2007 that removed all invasive species, planted native flora and created a two-acre wetland. In the last decade, six-foot-high mangroves have grown from seeds recruited naturally from the waterways. The rest of the uplands have matured, making the islands one of the best examples of a thriving native marine environment in coastal Florida.

The Longboat Key Police Department marine division will be patrolling the Intracoastal Waterway to slow boaters. Kayakers and those without a boat will be ferried to the island by volunteers with boats and by SBW board members. Reef Innovations Inc. will once again help the effort with a barge where volunteers can offload their trash. The Town Public Works Department will pick up bags deposited along the mangrove shoreline by volunteers.

Once back at the Town boat ramp volunteers and Town Public Works volunteers will load the debris into a truck provided by the Town of Longboat Key. Public Works employees recently did an invasive cleanup and cleared and marked trails for those participating in the cleanup. Volunteers in the past have found a wide range of debris including bed frames, boat cushions, umbrellas, life vests, a boat hull, a tackle box, crab pots, fishing poles and buoys. Most of the debris enters the mangroves on high tides and is trapped there. All plastics and cans will be collected in separate green bags provided by SBW and recycled.

At 11:30 a.m. all volunteers will return to Mar Vista where they will be treated to a complimentary lunch of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, Caesar salad and all the trimmings. This cleanup will mark the beginning of the second decade for this event. The Sister Keys Clean Up is just one of many projects that SBW is involved in. In 2018 SBW planted over 250,000 clams into the bay and is currently raising close to 750,000 clams for a future restoration. Other cleanups are conducted at various locations around the bay and include underwater events as well. In the fall the annual monofilament cleanup will take place at bird rookeries (nesting areas) bay wide. Participants in this year’s cleanup should register online. Here you’ll have all the information on the event as well as others throughout the year.

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