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Rookery Bay launches 'I Heart Estuaries' campaign to preserve NERR funding

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Yesterday, Rookery Bay Reserve launched its "I Heart Estuaries" campaign, a community-based initiative designed to show Congress and the Administration that there is a lot of love among Southwest Florida residents and visitors for area estuaries. Protecting local waters for current and future generations has been a topic of conversation for decades, but inaction has led to continued and often irreparable damage to one of our greatest assets - the pristine waters and recreational fishing that has attracted people to this part of the country beginning with Thomas Edison, Ambrose and Tootie McGregor and Walter N. Haldeman, Edward Crayton and Fred N. Lowdermilk.

As long ago as the 1940s, seafood magnate Louis Piner warned anyone who would listen that construction of the Sanibel Causeway would spell doom for the Pine Island Sound scallop fisheries. Recalling days gone by when they could scoop 2,000 shrimp in less than an hour and catch 80 tarpon in an evening from the "fishingest bridge in the world," original Matlacha settlers George and Gay Kuhns gave up fishing after the 1927 Pine Island Bridge was replaced in 1968 by a concrete spanned "that ruined the fishing for everyone."

As zoo-archaeologist Karen Walker points out, the bridges certainly contributed to the decline in water quality that led to the collapse of the scallop fisheries in 1963 or the decline in sport fishing in 1968, but far worse was the dredging of canals and waterways throughout the 1950s and '60s in Cape Coral, Matlacha and Punta Gorda, the associated destruction of mangrove habitats, and fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee. The latter has had an especially deleterious effect on the nurseries and rookeries for fish, crustaceans, shellfish, pelicans and roseate spoonbills.

With that as backdrop, the Friends of Rookery Bay has sent a letter to Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and other leaders asking them to maintain current funding of National Estuarine Research Reserves like Rookery Bay so that they can "keep the doors open" and continue their science, education, and training programs. Acknowledging that every program must tighten its belt to help the federal budget deficit, the "I Heart Estuaries" program contends that protecting estuaries means protecting our future.

"We hope that this effort will raise awareness of the importance of estuaries and secure support for funding key programs that will help protect our them," states Friends of Rookery Bay President Craig Seibert in an open letter. "If protecting estuaries like Rookery Bay is important to you, please join us in this movement and send a letter of your support to our state leaders."

To facilitate your involvement, Friends of Rookery Bay has posted a sample letter for people to cut and paste in order to create their own letter about why estuaries are important to them.

For more info about the campaign, please visit: http://www.nerrablog.blogspot.com/.

Sample letter to Senators:

The Honorable Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson
Florida Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senators Rubio and Nelson:

On behalf of the staff, volunteers, sponsors, and loyal patrons of Rookery Bay Reserve, I write to tell you that we LOVE the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Our organization, The Friends of Rookery Bay, represents more than 400 members. Specifically, we care about this Reserve because it represents one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. A myriad of wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in the estuarine environment and surrounding upland hammocks and scrub found within this Reserve. In addition, it is an important recreational, educational, and economic part of our community.

We respectfully ask that you request Congressional Appropriators to maintain current funding for the entire NERRS. Current funding will help my Reserve and the other 27 NERRs around the country "keep the doors open" and maintain the science, education, and training programs. While every program must tighten its belt to help the federal budget deficit, protecting estuaries means protecting our future.

Thank you for consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Craig Seibert
Friends of Rookery Bay President

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