Preserve Manatee County's environmental heritage; tourism and the local economy are at stake

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 on April 22, let us recognize the history of protecting our county’s, as well as our state's, natural habitats — both on land as well as in water.

Shortly after World War II, both Florida and Manatee County saw an increase in 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, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., created the first Earth Day, which took place on April 22, 1970, in an effort to bring awareness to air and water pollution. Over 20 million Americans celebrated Earth Day across the nation.

Sunset from Robinson Preserve in Manatee County. Mark Young

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 into 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 the 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, more than 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.

That includes a project completed in 2014 with the Florida Maritime Museum. SBEP and the museum 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 keeping 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 percent of that plastic comes from land-based sources. Celebrate by going to one of the many organized cleanups, or organize your own. Keller Williams on the Water will be having a “Beach and BBQ” event on Sunday, April 22, from 11 am-2 pm to clean up the beach and enjoy some yummy food after! Visit Eventbrite to register.

Interested in seeing an example of native landscaping? Visit the Florida Maritime Museum. The grounds are open to the public from dusk to dawn daily. The museum is free and open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 am-4 pm.

Author: Alexis Schofield, former Education Coordinator at FMM


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