50 Years of SCCF

Cel­e­brat­ing Sani­bel-Cap­tiva Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion, pro­tect­ing our nat­u­ral re­sources

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY ERICK LIND­BLAD

The Sani­bel-Cap­tiva Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion (SCCF) was founded on Oct. 31, 1967. Fifty years have brought a lot of change to Sani­bel and Cap­tiva―in­creas­ing devel­op­ment spurred by the 1963 Sani­bel Cause­way open­ing and the 1966 cre­ation of the Is­land Wa­ter As­so­ci­a­tion, Sani­bel’s found­ing in 1974. Now, over 65 per­cent of Sani­bel Is­land is held in con­ser­va­tion land due to a con­certed ef­fort by SCCF and its part­ners, the J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge and the city of Sani­bel.

Land ac­qui­si­tion had been a pri­mary goal of SCCF. In 2000, SCCF saw an emerg­ing fo­cus on wa­ter qual­ity. To that end, the SCCF Marine Lab­o­ra­tory was founded in 2002 and be­gan work­ing on mon­i­tor­ing, re­search and restora­tion projects. That work was rec­og­nized in 2015 with a $1 mil­lion Florida Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion grant for oys­ter reef and sea­grass restora­tion, split evenly be­tween SCCF’s Marine Lab and the Florida Oceano­graphic So­ci­ety in St. Lu­cie.

Our re­gion’s wa­ter prob­lems es­ca­lated in 2013 with the dump­ing of bil­lions of gal­lons of pol­luted wa­ter from Lake Okee­chobee. De­ci­sions of wa­ter man­agers rip­pled from Or­lando to Florida Bay. Our lo­cal wa­ters and the Caloosa­hatchee are in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound into an in­cred­i­bly com­plex sys­tem and, un­for­tu­nately, South­west Florida was at the bot­tom of the list of pri­or­i­ties. SCCF’s 2006 ad­di­tion of a Nat­u­ral Re­source Pol­icy di­rec­tor has given us rep­re­sen­ta­tion re­gion­ally, in Tal­la­has­see and in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Sci­en­tific data pro­vided by SCCF’s Marine Lab―and work­ing closely with lo­cal part­ners, es­pe­cially the city of Sani­bel―gave us a seat at the ta­ble. There is still a lot

SCCF’S LAND AC­QUI­SI­TION EF­FORTS HAVE PRO­TECTED 1,860 ACRES, AND FA­CIL­I­TATED THE PRESER­VA­TION OF AN AD­DI­TIONAL 470 ACRES.

of work to do, but we have a voice.

Look­ing back on 50 years, there have been many suc­cesses. Af­ter in­tense lob­by­ing by SCCF staff and vol­un­teers, for in­stance, lands on Cayo Costa and North Cap were nom­i­nated for state ac­qui­si­tion in 1974. Large tracts on both is­lands were pur­chased by the state of Florida in July 1976, be­com­ing Cayo Costa State Park. Much of Sani­bel’s unique in­te­rior wet­lands have been pre­served. SCCF be­gan work­ing in 1969 to buy lots com­pris­ing Sani­bel Gar­dens and Tar­pon Bay Es­tates, later turn­ing the work over to the city of Sani­bel. Habi­tat restora­tion on the Sani­bel Gar­dens Pre­serve was a part­ner­ship be­tween SCCF, the city and “Ding” Dar­ling that won a Coastal Amer­ica Part­ner­ship Award in 2002. SCCF also

won the Florida Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion Con­ser­va­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Year Award in 2014. And in the late 1980s, SCCF spear­headed the fundrais­ing to pre­serve al­most 80 per­cent of 350-acre Buck Key [about 20 per­cent still re­mains in pri­vate hands]. Much of the is­land is now owned and man­aged by the “Ding” Dar­ling Refuge. To­day, SCCF’s land ac­qui­si­tion ef­forts have pro­tected 1,860 acres, and fa­cil­i­tated the preser­va­tion of an ad­di­tional 470 acres―on Sani­bel, Cap­tiva and Pine Is­land―in­clud­ing the most r ecent ac­qui­si­tion of the Bai­ley Home­stead Pre­serve in 2011. On all this acreage, SCCF’s mon­i­tor­ing pro­grams have re­moved ex­otic veg­e­ta­tion, mon­i­tored

species, and re­stored the health of th­ese unique bar­rier is­land habi­tats.

Much of our work is ac­com­plished with the in­valu­able help of hun­dreds of vol­un­teers and the gen­er­ous sup­port of the com­mu­nity. Vol­un­teers are the heart of our Sea Tur­tle con­ser­va­tion pro­gram, for ex­am­ple, with over a hun­dred par­tic­i­pat­ing ev­ery year, walk­ing the beach to help stake and mon­i­tor nest­ing, which has been break­ing records for the past three years. While it’s too early to know for cer­tain, it is be­lieved that the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts be­gun in the 1970s― in a num­ber of places, in­clud­ing Sani­bel, where Charles LeBuff be­gan Caretta Re­search―are be­gin­ning to lit­er­ally bear fruit. The work of Caretta Re­search was passed on to SCCF in the early 1990s.

South­west Florida faces chal­lenges on many fronts. Growth man­age­ment is an on­go­ing con­cern, and sev­eral long­stand­ing bat­tles are still be­ing fought. Wa­ter is­sues re­main front and cen­ter. On­go­ing ed­u­ca­tion of a chang­ing pop­u­la­tion is vi­tal, fos­ter­ing re­spect and un­der­stand­ing for the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of the is­lands, one that evolved in a sub­trop­i­cal world of two sea­sons, dry and wet. The Na­tive Land­scapes & Gar­den Cen­ter pro­vides na­tive plants and land­scap­ing ser­vices, and has demon­stra­tion gar­dens show­ing plants in the is­lands’ dif­fer­ent habi­tats.

SCCF looks for­ward to meet­ing the chal­lenges of the next 50 years as part of this re­source­ful and re­silient is­lands com­mu­nity. The door is al­ways open to those who would like to help.

Lo­cal wa­ters are in­ex­tri­ca­bly bound into an in­cred­i­bly com­plex sys­tem. SCCF has been at the van­guard of pro­tect­ing this vi­tal nat­u­ral re­source.

Two-thirds of Sani­bel is held in con­ser­va­tion thanks to SCCF, the J.N. "Ding" Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge and the city of Sani­bel.

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