Annual Sister Keys Clean Up successful
By Rusty Chinnis
Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) conducted its annual Sister Keys Clean Up on Saturday, April 28. The event was hosted by the Chiles Group and held on the beach at the Mar Vista Dockside restaurant. On this beautiful morning, 80 volunteers organized by SBW Events Coordinator Ronda Ryan worked for four hours on the island and around the mangrove fringes collecting 1,300 pounds of trash and 80 recyclable items.
At the start of the event, I, as Sarasota Bay Watch Chairman Emeritus, gave the volunteers a brief history of the Sister Keys. The islands were originally slated for development in the early 60s and were once again threatened in 1989 when they went on sale for $1 million. That spurred a group of citizens to form the Sister Keys Conservancy in an attempt to buy and preserve the islands as a nature preserve.
After three years of lobbying, bake sales and two music in the park events, the group had only raised $50,000 towards the $1 million sale price. They then went to the town of Longboat Key, which needed additional open space for its comprehensive plan. The town consummated the sale in 1994, assuring the keys would not be developed.
The islands underwent a million-dollar mitigation in 2007 that removed all invasive species, planted native flora and created a two-acre wetland. In the last decade, 6-foot mangroves have grown from seeds recruited naturally from the waterways. The rest of the uplands have matured, making the islands one of the best examples of a thriving native marine environment in coastal Florida.
The cleanup would not have been possible without the support of The Chiles Group, Mar Vista and the town of Longboat Key. Longboat Key Manager Tom Harmer and his wife, Dee, attended and participated in the cleanup, and Longboat Key Marine Officer Nick Renno patrolled the Intracoastal Waterway to slow boaters.