Reel Time: Supporting Suncoast Waterkeeper: The Giving Challenge

I’ve been privileged to live on the Suncoast since 1981.  Being an avid angler, I started seeing the need to act to protect our estuaries and Gulf waters in 1985. That’s the year I joined with Captain Scott Moore and other concerned anglers to form the Manatee Chapter of the Florida Conservation Association, now the CCA.

What began as concern for our fisheries grew into a love for and desire to protect the habitat that supports this amazing area we call home. In 1989 I joined a group of local citizens on Longboat Key to form an organization called The Sister Keys Conservancy to lobby for the purchase and protection of these undeveloped islands. Nearby Tidy Island had just been developed on the eastern shore of Sarasota Bay and blue septic tanks were lined up to be buried on Jewfish Key.  In 1992, thanks to the work of citizens, businesses and local environmental groups, the Town of Longboat Key purchased the islands.

Supporting Suncoast Waterkeeper: The Giving Challenge
The waters of Palma Sola Bay (closed due to COVID-19) are a popular destination for fishermen and families. Compromised waters can endanger public health. SCWK helps alert municipalities to water quality programs in areas untested by the state. – Rusty Chinnis | Submitted

In 2007 a $1.2 million restoration removed all invasive species, planted natives and created a two-acre wetland.  Today, the incredible growth there demonstrates the “Restorative Power of Nature” and the ability of concerned citizens to initiate positive change.

In 2007 I was part of a group of bay advocates that formed Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) in response to a persistent Harmful Algae Bloom (HABs, a/k/a red tide) that was devastating life in the Gulf and bay. In subsequent years an outpouring of support from area businesses and residents has raised awareness of the importance of clean water to the health of the bay and the local economy. SBW has ongoing events that remove debris and invasive plants from local islands, fishing line from bird rookeries, conduct underwater cleanups, create educational programs for students and restock scallop and clams to bay waters, boosting dwindling populations of these critical bivalves.

While I still believe in and continue to support the work of these organizations, it became clear to me that all these efforts were being compromised by lax and unenforced directives mandated to protect water quality under the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. Antiquated and deficient sewage and wastewater systems were raising nitrogen levels in Tampa and Sarasota bays, exposing the public to dangerous pathogens and exacerbating the HABs.

The next logical step for me was to become a member of and eventually join the Board of Suncoast Waterkeeper (SCWK).

SCWK,, is a local organization that’s doing the critical work I believe is necessary to address the insults to our waters. They’re alerting the public to water quality issues that are crucial to address if the efforts of all the other environmental groups are to be successful. They’re working to help municipalities challenge ill-conceived phosphate mining projects and their “Sick of Sewage” campaign is holding polluters accountable for illegal discharges to local bays. In addition, a newly-instituted water quality testing program is making residents and government entities aware of potential health issues in inshore waters not being tested by the state. Currently, they’re creating an educational program to mentor students that will become the leaders and environmental stewards of the future.

That’s why I joined Suncoast Waterkeeper and why I think supporting their mission is critical if we want to protect this amazing resource for our children, grandchildren and future generations. You can help SCWK make a difference by donating to support their mission between noon on April 28 and noon on April 29 during the 2020 Giving Challenge. This is an exciting online 24-hour event that connects nearly 700 nonprofit organizations with passionate donors to support diverse causes and create enduring impact in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties. You can also join SCWK and support their efforts to protect local waters.

Rusty Chinnis, The Sun's Outdoors columnist, is a professional photographer, certified Fly Fishers International casting instructor, and chairman of the board of Suncoast Waterkeeper. Email