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SBEP overseeing habitat restoration at FISH Preserve

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SARASOTA – The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) is continuing to do habitat restoration at FISH Preserve, a 100-acre parcel adjacent to Sarasota Bay within the Village of Cortez in Manatee County. The latest plan includes the removal of exotic plants later this fall followed by the conversion of two stormwater retention ponds into additional wetland habitat. New creeks, ponds and trails will also be created as part of the plan. The project is expected to take up to two years to complete. Dr. Jay Leverone, the SBEP Staff Scientist, will manage the project.

FISH is an acronym for Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage, a non-profit organization that purchased the property in 1999 to help restore, conserve and protect the upland and wetland habitats and adjacent waters. The ongoing restoration at FISH Preserve is supported by major funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD).

The first phase of the large-scale restoration project was completed in 2009 and involved the removal of exotic vegetation, creation of a tidal wetland, and mangrove restoration. Last year, two bridges were constructed to connect hiking trails thanks to support from the Bonefish Grill. Volunteers with the SBEP Bay Guardians, including students from Martha B. King Middle School in Bradenton, have completed small projects that support the restoration plan.

The restoration will increase wetland acreage, improve tidal circulation, and reestablish natural water flow. Exotic Brazilian pepper and Australian pine trees that currently dominate the landscape will be cleared and replaced with native trees and shrubs. Trash piles will also be removed.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs designated Cortez a Waterfront Community in 1997. Since that time, the community has worked to preserve their community through policy change, land acquisition, the development of a maritime museum, and other projects. The creation of the FISH Preserve is a cornerstone of the longer term preservation plan.

Photo: Bay Guardian volunteers at Fish Preserve