Sarasota Bay with Ringling Bridge

Local Issues

Many issues impact on the health and vitality of Sarasota Bay and all of its associated waterways. These include ongoing challenges related to urban development as well as the potential of unexpected events such as the BP Deep Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. Below are seven key issues that are currently being addressed by SBEP and its major partners.

The SBEP Bay Repair Kit provides helpful guidelines for Bay-friendly stewardship.

1. Stormwater Pollution

This is the major pollution concern impacting on Sarasota Bay. Everything that can be picked up by rainwater runoff flows into the Bay and its not all good stuff. Pollution includes toxins, excess fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, other chemicals, trash, bacteria, pet waste, and warmer water that can harm aquatic life.

Positive Action – SBEP and its partners continually educate groups and individuals throughout the watershed about ways to reduce stormwater pollution. This is accomplished through presentations, special events, classroom projects, press releases, social media networking, and information brochures.

A more recent initiative has been to encourage various associations, businesses and homeowners to replace concrete seawalls with “living shorelines” featuring native vegetation and a natural slope. Click here to learn more. SBEP completed the Bay’s first living shoreline restoration project at Herb Dolan Park in 2011. Click here to learn more.

2. Loss of Habitat

Rapid urban development and dredge and fill projects in prior decades reduced the amount of habitat throughout the estuary. Many developers and policy leaders in prior decades did not understand the importance of habitat on water quality and wildlife. Current leaders supported by public opinion are more informed about the benefits of habitat restoration projects as a way to restore balance. This is vital to the Bay ecosystem and our local economy given the importance of Sarasota Bay on tourism and our quality of life.

Major human causes of habitat loss and degradation include urbanization, construction, air and water pollutants, changing nutrient levels, introduction of non-native or exotic species, over fishing, and careless boating. Major natural threats include erosion, subsidence, sea level rise, droughts, and storms including hurricanes.

Local Issues - Stormwater Pollution

Positive Action – SBEP and its partners have completed more than 49 local restoration projects that have restored 2,158 acres.

Another positive action by SBEP is to provide funding support to local programs that promote restoration, education and landscaping. Through its Bay Partners Grant Program, SBEP has distributed more than $232,000.00 to 113 organizations since 2003. Recipients have included local schools, churches, condo associations, neighborhood groups, and non-profit organizations. Click here to learn more.

SBEP also supports the Bay Guardian volunteer program which completes at least six volunteer outings each year throughout Sarasota and Manatee County. Bay Guardian volunteers, including adults and children of all ages, have donated thousands of hours to help plant native vegetation and remove debris at target restoration sites. Click here to learn more.

Did you know that coastal habitat restoration projects typically create between 20-32 jobs for every $1 million invested? That compares to 7 jobs for road infrastructure projects and 5 jobs for oil and gas projects. Almost all the money spent on restoration projects stays in our community and supports local businesses.

3. Loss of Wetlands

Local wetlands decreased by more than 1,600 acres between 1950 and 1990. The goal for recovery is to protect existing freshwater and saltwater wetlands while helping create new wetland areas.

Positive Action – SBEP and its partners have added 650 acres of wetland.

4. Diminished Seagrass

Seagrass provides vital habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates. It also provides support for hard bottom surfaces. Seagrass requires sufficient clear water for access to sunlight.

Positive Action – Local efforts by SBEP, its partners and other organizations have helped increase seagrass acreage by 46 percent since 1988 – nearly 4,000 acres.

5. Diminished Hard Bottom

Local Issues - Loss of Habitat

Nearly 4,500 acres of hard bottom were covered by dredge and fill operations in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This destroyed seagrass, reduced shellfish habitat and reduced the variety and number of fish species. Much of the development was done to create new living space like Bird Key and other projects were designed to provide homeowners on the Bay with deeper channels to secure their boats.

Positive Action – In 1996, SBEP developed a master artificial reef plan that identified 20 potential sites for new reefs. SBEP and its partners have constructed and placed more than 3,000 habitat modules at nine artificial reef sites since 2000. SBEP and its partners have also developed two oyster sites at White Beach in Sarasota County and The Gladiola Fields in Manatee County. Thirty-two tons of shell was added to the two sites in May 2011.

6. Rising Sea Level

The Climate Ready Estuaries Program is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support contingency planning. The objective of the program is to provide local policy leaders and resource managers with practical long-term planning tools. The primary tool is a digital map that shows projected sea level increase scenarios over the next several decades. Click here to visit the map.