New project aims to improve water quality and protect Sarasota Bay
SARASOTA — Situated on a little more than nine acres of lush, underdeveloped land, Orchid Oaks Preserve along Phillippi Creek has provided the perfect refuge for residents of the nearby condominiums since the private property was developed in the 1980s.
But almost 40 years after Orchid Oaks was built, nonindigenous invasive plants are threatening this suburban gem and the health of the creek’s ecosystem, as well as the larger Sarasota Bay estuary.
Beginning July 15, the preserve off Tuttle Avenue north of Bee Ridge Road will undergo a large restoration project to remove the plants and restore its natural habitat for plants and wildlife.
With one of Phillippi Creek’s few remaining more natural shorelines, void of seawalls or other hardening, the location is important for improving the creek’s water quality before it reaches Sarasota Bay three miles downstream.
According to project leader Ron Van Fleet, a senior professional wetlands scientist for the engineering firm VHB, the area had become so overwhelmed with non-native plants like Brazillian pepper, air potatoes, reclinata palm, carrowood and punkwood that it has contributed to the decline in the shoreline’s natural water filtration system.
The Orchid Oak project received $10,000 from Sarasota County’s Neighborhood Grant Program, the maximum amount available for such neighborhood improvement efforts, toward the $22,000 cost. According to county Neighborhood Services Manager Jane Grogg, the project provides a public benefit, increases the health of the community and protects water or energy resources.