By Alexis Lucas
Manatee County offers unique ecosystems to its residents and visitors. Countless people travel the globe to bask in our natural wonders – from our shell filled beaches to unique nature parks and preserves. For Earth Day 2018, let us recognize the history of protecting our county’s, as well as our states, natural habitats - both on land as well as in water.
Shortly after World War II both Florida and Manatee County saw an increase in both tourism and population. With this came a thriving economy that brought dredging, and an increase in waterfront homes and restaurants. Today, tourism and the local economy continue to grow which make environmental education that much more important.
Earth Day is a day to remind Americans to be conscious of the markings we leave on the planet. How and why did Earth Day start? Shortly after an oil spill in 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI) created the first Earth Day, which took place on April 22nd 1970 in an effort to bring awareness to air and water pollution. Over 20 million Americans celebrated Earth Day across the nation.
Shortly after, The Clean Water Act (1972) and Clean Air Act (1970), both signed by President Richard Nixon, were passed. Each of these Acts assists the nation, and Florida, in keeping our air and water clean. Due to continued support these Acts have been amended and passed again to include further action, such as the Water Quality Act of 1987. This Act identified 28 National Estuaries, and ultimately put the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program in effect.
Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP), started in 1989, is a partnership of local, state, and federal government agencies that have worked closely with both Sarasota and Manatee Counties to ensure that the estuaries that feed into local oceans are clean and healthy.. SBEP’s major goals are to restore sea grass in the bay, fisheries and resource management, and educate the public on the issues that are facing Sarasota Bay. Since 1989, over 1,600 acres of intertidal and freshwater wetlands have been restored, over 3,000 artificial reef habitat modules have been deployed to attract fish, and more than 65 local organizations have completed Bay- friendly restoration and education projects. Including, a project completed in 2014 with the Florida Maritime Museum (FMM). SBEP and FMM added bay-friendly landscaping around a tidal pond on the museum property, as well as a small butterfly garden. Both the pond and butterfly garden have additional signs to explain the importance of native plants, bay friendly plants, and their role in keep our oceans healthy.
The theme of Earth Day 2018 is: End Plastic Pollution. One of the many ways we can contribute to healthy ecosystems is reducing the amount of plastic we use, and recycling the plastic we do use. Plastic is the most common debris found in the ocean, and 80% of that plastic comes from land-based sources.