Dr. Tyrna speaking at a Manatee County Land Use Meeting for the Save Our Wetlands campaign.
A Letter from Suncoast Waterkeeper Executive Director, Dr. Abbey Tyrna
I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to you for your past support. The contributions of individuals like you are crucial to helping us fight for clean water. We have been working diligently to address threats to our waterways, like fighting for strict pollution limits on Piney Point’s Clean Water Act permit and using science to inform sound environmental policies in Manatee County.
Our goal is clean water for ALL, and Suncoast Waterkeeper is committed to the continuous work required. Our efforts are collective, and our success is not possible without you. Please consider becoming a sustaining member or making a one-time donation. With your contribution, we can enhance our water quality monitoring efforts, build our education and outreach capabilities, rally supporters to advocate for stronger environmental protections and wage legal battles when necessary. In 2023, we launched new programs like our high-school student program, Environmental Ambassadors, and our citizen pollution reporting program, Eyes on the Suncoast. From our industrial pollution lawsuits, $55,000 went to enhance the Whitaker Bayou shoreline to increase water quality, habitat, and water access at MLK Park. While we have much to celebrate, we still have many challenges ahead.
In 2024, we plan to ramp up our efforts to protect mangroves in Manatee County, where rampant development and hydrologic changes threaten their existence. We want to expand our investigative efforts on potentially polluting industries in the Whitaker Bayou watershed, where unchecked industrial pollution threatens the health of the environment and the neighboring communities. We will be ready to face whatever comes our way because of your support.
On behalf of the staff (yes, there are two of us now!) and the Board of Directors, I extend our sincerest thanks for your support.
Dr. Abbey Tyrna, Waterkeeper & Executive Director
2023 has been a year of huge growth for Suncoast Waterkeeper and none of it would have been possible without YOU, our supporters! Take a look and see why we're so proud of our work in 2023 as well as some stories on the highlights of this year.
2023 in Review: Eyes on the Suncoast
With One Pollution Report, Oil Spill Crisis Mitigated in Port Manatee
It was a calm Friday morning when a citizen noticed a thick patch of oil in the water right off the dock in Port Manatee. Though they couldn’t tell exactly how much oil was in the water, they knew what they saw was cause for concern and something had to be done. Thankfully, they knew exactly who to call. Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper received the phone call reporting the spill and sprang into action.
“Once we received the report, we reached out to our Waterkeeper network to discuss the next steps. Within minutes we had a plan of action, and we were ready to take on any spill, whether it was millions of gallons or thousands.” - Dr. Abbey Tyrna, Executive Director and Waterkeeper
The two Waterkeeper groups immediately alerted regulatory authorities of the incident. Together they called the proper agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard. However, after hearing that the Coast Guard came and went without an investigation, the two Waterkeepers pushed for a thorough investigation of the incident. Shortly after, reports of crews vacuuming the oil and raking debris started to emerge. In total, over 19,000 gallons of the oil-water mixture were removed, as well as 6.4 tons of impacted debris.
With the Bay already working to recover from waste spills like Piney Point and a dangerous decline in seagrass levels, Suncoast Waterkeeper knows that protecting the Suncoast’s waters requires everyone to keep an eye out. That is why Suncoast Waterkeeper launched its citizen pollution reporting program, Eyes on the Suncoast, this year. Since its launch,16 pollution incidents have been reported and over 1,000 information cards have been distributed. Eyes on the Suncoast aims to empower residents and visitors out on the water to report what they see and let the Waterkeepers handle the rest. It is a sad reality that pollution incidents occur, but with a clear method of reporting, it is our hope that the pollution can be mitigated when we react swiftly, just like with the oil spill in Port Manatee.
We look forward to expanding Eyes on the Suncoast in the next year and empowering the citizens of the Suncoast to act when they spot pollution.
2023 in Review: Environmental Ambassadors
High School Students Work Toward a Cleaner Environment through New Environmental Ambassadors Program
Most high school students would scoff at the idea of doing anything at 9 am on a Saturday, but the Environmental Ambassadors of Booker High School arrive at the Multicultural Health Institute’s (MHI) offices in Newtown on the morning of November 11 eager and ready to learn. The program, a collaboration between Suncoast Waterkeeper and MHI and funded by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, involves two monthly meetings with the students — the first on a Friday where the students learn about the month’s focus topic from experts and guest speakers, and the second on a Saturday where they implement what they’ve learned through a community-based activity or event. November’s focus is air quality and its impact on community health. This morning, guest speaker and Calusa Waterkeeper board member Manny Aparicio, PhD, explains his journey as a citizen scientist and how he learned to engineer his own air monitoring system. The students’ intellectual creativity shines through as they brainstorm how they would set up and run experiments to learn more about the air quality in their school and in their community.
We believe it is essential that the next generation of amazing young minds learn about environmental factors that impact their life and community. Most importantly, we want our Environmental Ambassadors to leave knowing they don’t have to wait for adulthood to make a difference, they have the power and the agency right now to ask questions about what’s going on in our community, gather data and get answers. By the end of this year’s program, over 300 hours of community service will be completed by the Ambassadors along with projects focusing on what it's like living “A Day in their Environment”.
Already we can see the impact the program is having on our students. On our first Saturday outing, we invited the students to go out on the Suncoast Waterkeeper patrol boat and learn about scientific observations and shark sciences from Jasmin Graham with Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS). Despite being a lifelong Sarasota resident, one of the students was going on a boat for the very first time. The joy from the experience illuminated her face. At the end of the year, Ms. Graham will join the group again on the patrol boat to provide the students with another new experience — tagging sharks.
During this piloted effort, we are learning just as much from our students as they are from us. It is our hope that the already growing group of nine continues to strengthen with each year and that along with their lessons, the students learn about the many career pathways related to health, water and air quality that are open to them while simultaneously growing their professional networks to help propel them into their future.
2023 in Review: Sick of Sewage
Responsible Legal Action Leads to Pollution Reduction and Environmental Enhancement
Many people think a pollution case ends with a ruling or a settlement. However, at Suncoast Waterkeeper, that is only part of the work that we do to make sure the impacted areas not only see a reduction in pollution, but real environmental enhancement. Take, for example, our ongoing Sick of Sewage campaign, which began in 2019.. After major victories against polluting municipalities on the Suncoast, we continue with the challenging work of monitoring and enforcing compliance with the settlements we negotiated, which include major commitments to improve infrastructure and management as well as stipulated financial penalties that are directed to environmental enhancements.
In the City of St. Petersburg settlement, $200,000 went to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which funded three environmental restoration projects: Little Bird Key Shoreline Restoration in 2019, MRSA testing in Tampa Bay in 2022, and this year, work is ongoing to improve water quality and restore habitat at Maximo Park. The Maximo Park project includes treating stormwater runoff, addressing erosion with a living shoreline and restoring coastal upland habitats.
In 2023, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program received $47,150 from our settlement with Sarasota County. The stipulated penalties, along with donations and charitable gifts, were put toward the creation of the Environmental Project Fund allocated for projects associated with habitat restoration and water quality improvement within Sarasota County. Already the fund has committed to a funding proposal from START (Solutions to Avoid Red Tide), a project from the Audubon Society and Healthy Pond Collaborative converting a waterìbody in Quad Park into a functioning stormwater pond, and wetland plantings in Bobby Jones Park. Other enhancements from our settlements include the City of Bradenton advancing vertical oyster garden infrastructure in the Manatee River; in Gulfport, living shoreline projects in Treasure Bay and St. Pete Beach; and in Largo, habitat enhancement and restoration of Roosevelt Creek / Channel 5 system, a tributary of Old Tampa Bay.
In other cases, we continue to work to make sure that polluters are held accountable. This often requires hours of tracking down information, reading through documents, and following up with proper agencies to ensure that the extensive commitments agreed to in settlements are honored. This can be tedious, unglamorous work, but it is absolutely essential.
These settlement agreements are complex and oftentimes take years of work and many millions of dollars to conclude, with the goal of bringing the polluter back into compliance with their permits and the Clean Water Act. Government regulators rely on weak permits and polluter self-reporting, with little oversight, resulting in excessive pollution. Even when regulators undertake enforcement actions, they rarely lead to compliance. When we step into the role of enforcer and are compelled to bring an action, we are invested in seeing the case through, past litigation and to a conclusion where the pollution is ultimately controlled and our waterways are protected. - Justin Bloom, Founder
That is what it means to take part in responsible legal action for us. We act in the best interest of the Suncoast and its inhabitants, and our end goal is the same as all our other efforts - Clean Water for ALL.