BRADENTON -- The Gulf Restoration Network reports that, throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, plants, animals, birds, fish and mammals are at risk; with there currently being 112 endangered species, in Florida alone. None of the counties are doing a stellar job at protecting all of those in peril, but the group says Manatee County is doing better than most.
Manatee County goes to great lengths to protect the endangered sea turtles and other species that live in the Gulf of Mexico. There are five species of sea turtles that swim off the Florida shores and nest in the sands. All of those species are protected under state statutes.
Suzi Fox, Director of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring, guides tours of the turtle nesting beaches and holds songbird ID classes. Fox says that protecting sea turtles and their habitat allows further understanding of what's required to protect the shoreline.
Manatee County Natural Resource Director Charlie Hunsicker says our estuaries and beaches are our greatest resource, and that he is committed to protecting them for the future generations of Manatee County citizens.
But Hunsicker has plenty of challenges that threaten his goals. Manatee's history is one of farming and that means run-off containing problematic nutrients, and development which also challenges the estuaries and shoreline.
Endangered animals become extinct when their habitat can no longer protect and feed their young; endangered plants become extinct when development overruns the volumes needed to guarantee reproduction.
Without a concerted effort to protect the state's natural habitat, Florida will continue to add to its list of endangered species.
Seldom do any of these downward trends reverse themselves, but recently, 60 miles of Manatee County shoreline has experienced a resurrection of a species that had disappeared.
A cactus, known as the Aboriginal prickly-apple, used to be found on the shores of Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties. It had been considered lost for decades, but has recently reappeared along Manatee and Sarasota shores.
Last Tuesday, Hunsicker invited Jessica Koelsch, a Gulf Restoration Policy Specialist for the National Wildlife Federation, to speak to the Manatee BOCC about how to best spend "Restore Act" settlement funds designated to repair damages from BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Koelsch said, "… building aquatic nesting areas and focusing on the estuaries is where the focus should be," and Hunsicker agreed.
Phenomenons like the prickly-apple lend hope that by investing in the coastal berms, maritime hammocks and seagrasses, Manatee county may stay ahead of the rest of the counties and remain a leader in Eco-tourism.
It seems experts agree that embracing these values will allow our region to continue to stand out as the champion of vacation spots in the state of Florida.
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