People who attended last weekend's Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival should know they contributed to a noble cause. The festival is the lone fund-raiser for the nonprofit Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage, or FISH.
The grassroots organization, dedicated to the preservation of Florida's traditional Gulf Coast maritime communities, is in the midst of re-creating native habitat on almost 100 acres of Sarasota Bay waterfront that also borders Cortez Road to the north and the historic fishing village to the east.
FISH, the Cortez community and various government entities are putting a long neglected piece of land overgrown with invasive species back into its Florida roots, literally. The public stands to benefit handsomely with yet another Manatee County nature preserve.
Unlike most preserves, this is a community-driven effort. FISH purchased the 95 acres years ago with the intent of preservation and restoration. The festival, just finishing its 33rd year, provides funds for this wonderful endeavor.
Those gnarly Brazilian pepper trees and other non-native species are now being cleared out by heavy equipment to make way for native marsh grasses, mangrove wetlands and freshwater wetlands as well as other habitat attractive to wildlife. Nine acres have already been restored.
Under the umbrella of the Cortez Habitat Restoration Project, the community of Cortez and FISH are partnering with the Southwest Water Management District, the Sarasota Bay National Estuary Program and Manatee County government on what will eventually be a $1 million expenditure. While the fishing festival only generates a fraction of that cost -- $500,000 has been spent to date -- every dime matters.
Manatee County is already blessed with a plethora of nature preserves, with the hugely popular Robinson Preserve in northwest Bradenton atop the list. The Resource Management Division maintains responsibility for habitat and wildlife management and public access on nearly 30,000 acres of conserved public land. The division's goal is to "conserve and protect" natural resources. We're lucky to live in a county that continues to add these public assets to our growing quality of life.
FISH's mission extends into research and collecting, preserving and interpreting the culture and folk-life of maritime communities and the commercial fisheries of Florida as well as promoting public awareness and support for the protection of marine resources and the fisheries industry.
The organization also helps the Cortez Village Historical Society with the operation of free Florida Maritime Museum, appropriately housed in a historic 1912 schoolhouse which abuts the blooming preserve.
One of Florida's few remaining fishing villages, Cortez is all about preserving Old Florida. The preserve is a key piece of the puzzle, buffering the village from development to the east.
One of the world's most famous names in environmental protection and preservation, Cousteau, is well aware of the Cortez restoration project. Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of fabled ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, called the effort "an important reminder of how vital the connection between humanity and nature is."
Well said. This entire community, not just Cortez, will benefit from this restoration. Consider your patronage of the fishing festival a part of this effort. And kudos to FISH for spearheading the project.