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Friends of the Arts delivers seafood, water quality education

By Staff | Nov 20, 2019

The Pearl Street Band performs at the DiamondHead Beach Resort Nov. 13 at the “Southwest Florida Sustains” event. NATHAN MAYBERG

For those attending “Southwest Florida Sustains,” a fundraiser for the Fort Myers Beach Friends of the Arts Nov. 13 at DiamondHead Beach Resort, the attraction may have been tasting seafood while supporting the local arts scene. While that all was delivered, the attendees also received a hefty education in the all-important subject of water quality.

City of Sanibel Natural Resources Director James T. Evans III delivered an in-depth look at what is going on with the water out there and how best to understand and address the current situation.

The good news so far is that Evans sees the current red tide and algae bloom as average for the area. For the time being, that should be relief to locals who suffered through a rough season last year.

“2018 was really a tipping point,” Evans said. He showed photos of the Caloosahatchee River in July full of blue-green algae which can produce dangerous toxins. “Not all of the algae is toxic but it does have an impact on us,” he said.

Evans said the tipping point in the red tide season last year was when a whale shark washed up on the Sanibel beach. “It was the first whale shark ever recorded as killed from red tide,” he said. That same month, 95 percent of Lake Okeechobee was full of blue-green algae, he said.

Meliss Alleva (left) was the trusted assistant of her mother and Dixie Fish Company General Manager Tessa Alleva at the “Southwest Florida Sustains” fundraiser. NATHAN MAYBERG

In all 859,000 pounds of dead sea life washed up on Sanibel’s beaches in 2018. “The oxygen was so low that the fish, the crabs, the critters we like to eat couldn’t breathe,” Evans said.

Luckily, Evans said, “our systems are resilient if you give them an opportunity to recover.”

Actions by the Army Corps Of Engineers this year to dramatically lessen the flows from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River could lead to a much less severe red tide.

Evans said factors that can contribute to poor water quality include large-scale land use changes associated with agricultural development, loss of natural wetlands, and sewage that is not properly treated. Evans said Sanibel has upgraded its sewage treatment plant. Evans said there are grants available to municipalities to upgrade their plants.

Evans said he expects the actions by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis to commit $2.5 billion to restoring the Everglades will help, along with the new blue-green algae task force.

City of Sanibel Natural Resources Director James Evans III (left) was the featured speaker at “Southwest Florida Sustain” on Nov. 13. He spoke with Fish Tale Marina Charter Captain Justin Paulsauskis (right) following his presentation. NATHAN MAYBERG

Janeen Paulauskis, a member of the Friends of the Arts Board and director of the Fort Myers Beach International Film Festival, said “we want to teach people about sustainability and keeping our waterways clean.”

Paulauskis said Friends of the Arts aims “to show people there is culture” on Fort Myers Beach. The latest fundraiser will aid the April film festival, local filmmakers, concerts, plays and artists. The

“We’re going to focus this year on the schools,” Paulauskis said. The nonprofit is planning to work with a local filmmaker on producing a film with students at the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School, which will be shown at the Beach Theater.

The local seafood restaurants who participated in the fundraiser were Coste Island Cuisine at the DiamondHead Beach Resort, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, Dixie Fish Co., The Whale and Fish-Tale Waterfront Dining.

Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille General Manager Kandice Salvador (left) presented the restaurant's Yucatan shrimp while Dixie Fish Company General Manager Meliss Alleva (right) showcased the establishment's shrimp salad. NATHAN MAYBERG