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. Pollution includes excess fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, trash, bacteria, and pet waste.

Positive Action – SBEP and its partners continually educate groups and individuals throughout the watershed about ways to reduce stormwater pollution.

2. Loss of Habitat

Rapid urban development and dredge and fill projects in prior decades damaged and paved over habitats throughout the watershed. Many developers and policy leaders in prior decades did not understand the importance of habitat to 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 to tourism and our quality of life.

Major human causes of habitat loss and degradation include urbanization, air and water pollutants, introduction of non-native or exotic species, over-fishing, and careless boating.

Local Issues - Stormwater Pollution

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

SBEP provides funding support to local programs that promote restoration, education and Florida-friendly landscaping. Through its Bay Partners Grant Program, SBEP has distributed more than $260,000 to 65 area organizations since 2003. Recipients have included local schools, churches, condominium 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 have donated thousands of hours to help plant native vegetation and remove trash 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 of 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 since 1989.

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 1950s and 1960s. Much of the development was done to create new waterfront property with deep channels for boating.

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.