Clean water ranks as one of the greatest treasures to an environment, and now we have a dollar amount to place on Sarasota Bay.
After decades of degradation, the 56-mile stretch of the intercoastal from Palma Sola Bay down to Blackburn Bay has shown a remarkable recovery with the scallop population and the seagrass beds.
For the four decades until 1990, water quality plunged and scallops disappeared. Tidal wetlands and marine habitat disappeared with shoreline development.
Today, an Eckerd College environmental study for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program pegged the monetary value of this prized natural resource at $11.8 billion. We shudder to think what that figure might have been before restoration efforts resuscitated the bay.
Bay-related tourism spending stands at $1.15 billion with another $487 million on recreational trips and $731 million on worker wages linked to the bay.
Quite the economic powerhouse, Sarasota Bay also holds the distinction of being an "estuary of national significance," a federal designation that indicates the waterway's importance.
Credit the cities and counties for significant upgrades in wastewater treatment and conservationists for planting seagrass and scallop larvae.
The region has a vested interest in protecting this and all our natural resources, not only for the economic value but for our quality of life. Shoreline development will continue, but officials must insist on best practices to ensure the environment doesn't degrade.