A unique opportunity is happening locally January 9-11 at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva. The long-running Everglades Coalition Conference is holding its 35th event in Lee County. Experts in various fields are holding sessions throughout the three days.
Originally reported in the Breeze Newspapers by Meghan Bradbury
The largest yearly gathering of environmental experts calling for the restoration of the Everglades will be held on Captiva this month.
The 35th annual Everglades Coalition Conference, will be held Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 9-11, at South Seas Island Resort, Captiva. The forum attracts scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, students, Florida residents, decision-makers and representatives from federal, state, local and tribal governments.
“The annual conference is the largest forum on discussion of progress for the Everglades every year,” said Conservancy of Southwest Florida Environmental Policy Manager and Everglades Coalition Co-Chair Marisa Carrozzo.
The Everglades Coalition was founded to provide an alliance of organizations to push for Everglades restoration, a group moving forward with an agenda that they could all get behind to restore the Everglades ecosystem.
The first conference was held in 1986 at the Port of the Islands on Marco Island.
“They gathered together on the recommendation of then-Gov. Bob Graham because of the need for a more cohesive approach to spearheading advocacy for the Everglades restoration,” Carrozzo said. “I think even back then federal funding and state funding was also a big need. Funding has been a long-standing talking point and core message from the standpoint of the coalition because without the funding none of these projects would be able to move forward, or be completed.”
The conference this year will focus on “America’s Everglades: All Hands on Deck,” to continue to coalitions’s focus on how it can accelerate restoration with consistent funding, all while ensuring Everglades restoration projects remain on track.
“You will be seeing a lot of discussion on how do we achieve the leadership and funding goals for Everglades restoration,” Carrozzo said.
In addition, discussions regarding the progress that has been made so far, such as raising Tamiami Trail, which will benefit the Everglades National Park, as well as moving water south, will be a topic.
Climate resiliency will be another topic in regards to ensuring how they can have a sustainable water supply for more than eight million Floridians, she said.
The three-day event will kick off on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 3 p.m. with “Everglades 101: History and Restoration.”
Carrozzo said the kickoff is open to the public and free to attend for those who would like to drop in for about an hour and a half to learn about the status and history of the Everglades Restoration. Registration is required to attend.
Registration, and fees, are required to attend the rest of the conference events and sessions.
The event formally opens at 6 p.m. Thursday with a Welcome Reception to be hosted by the City of Sanibel.
On Friday, Jan. 10, the conference will begin at 8 a.m. with breakfast and a guest speaker. At 9 a.m. Plenary 1: Water Quality: From Crisis to Action will be held with moderator Rae Ann Wessel with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Celeste De Palma with Audubon Florida will moderate Plenary II: Restoration Ready: Removing Barriers to Sending Water South.
Lunch follows at noon with keynote remarks from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Ryan Fisher. Plenary III: Lake Okeechobee Management: The Big Water is held at 2 p.m., which is moderated by Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic Society.
Beginning at 3:30 p.m. Breakout sessions will be held: Acronym Soup: The ABC’s of Everglades Restoration moderated by Doug Gaston of Audubon Florida; Clean Water Connection: Everglades Restoration and Marine Health moderated by Caroline McLaughlin of the National Parks Conservation Association and Protecting the Everglades Headwaters: Multi-Agency Conservation Efforts moderated by Jon Andrew of Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
A reception will be held at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and keynote remarks at 7 p.m.
The following day, Saturday, Jan. 11, the conference will kick off at 8 a.m. with breakfast and guest speakers. At 9 a.m. Dr. Melissa Abdo of the National Parks Conservation Association will moderate Plenary IV: Resilience Through Restoration: Connecting America’s Everglades to Climate Mitigation and Adaption.
At 10:30 a.m. the Breakout will include National Wildlife Refuge: 800,000 Acres in Support of Everglades Restoration moderated by Dr. Jim Metzler of “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society; Regenerative Agriculture, Everglades Restoration and Climate Resilience moderated by Paul McCullough of the Sierra Club and The Digital Everglades: New Media, New Audience moderated by Deborah Mitchell of Artists in Residence in Everglades.
At noon lunch will be served with keynote remarks before Plenary V: Funding and Leadership to Expedite Restoration will be held at 2 p.m. with moderator Jessie Ritter of the National Wildlife Federation.
The breakout sessions, which begin at 3:30 p.m., are The (small) Business of Restoration with moderator Laura Aguirre of Audubon Florida; The Road to Everglades Restoration is Not Paved: How Oil, Residential and Toll Road Development Threaten the Western Everglades with moderator Alison Kelly of Natural Resources Defense Council and Seagrass: The Regrowth of Florida’s Natural Infrastructure with moderator Brett Fitzgerald of Angler Action Foundation.
The evening will conclude with dinner and keynote remarks at 6:30 p.m.
“We have a lot of knowledgeable features with a lot of history and expertise on the Everglades. We hope everyone will walk away with the positive momentum going into this next year to really push for the completion of restoration projects and working together to achieve our shared goal of a restored Everglades eco system,” Carrozzo said.
The conference typically attracts more than 300 attendees. Last year it was held in the Florida Keys and attracted around 375.
“We are closing in around 300 already registered,” she said Dec. 19. “Considering that we have about 20 days left, we will easily reach the 350 mark.”
Attendance is $190 for the full conference, or $120 for a single day. Meal tickets, which are separate, are $20 for breakfast, $29 for lunch and $60 for dinner.
Those interested can register at www.EvergladesCoalition.org/conference, or by emailing info@EvergladesCoalition.org.