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Volunteers from Sarasota Bay Watch and Suncoast Aqua Ventures work with residents to clear the canals of Holiday Estates of the debris left by Hurricane Ian. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Reel Time: Suncoast Waterkeepers lead post-Ian cleanup


Hurricane Ian left a wake of debris in a wide swath of waterways across the state. One particularly hard-hit area on the Suncoast was Lemon Bay at the southern end of the watershed monitored by Suncoast Waterkeeper. That’s why board members and volunteers from Suncoast Waterkeeper teamed up with Suncoast Aqua Ventures, Sarasota Bay Watch, Lemon Bay Conservancy and the Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Program on Dec. 11 to conduct a waterway cleanup in the canals of Ainger Creek, a major tributary of Lemon Bay. Holiday Estates, one of the many communities devastated by the storm, was built on a series of these canals that drain into Lemon Bay.

“We love the volunteers that supported this community and our local waters. Together we made a real difference,” said Abbey Tyrna, executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper and the organizer of the event. “While we didn’t collect all the debris, our efforts to remove debris from our waterways was a positive one.”

I was particularly struck by the spirit of determination and camaraderie displayed by community members that day as I explored the area. Five weeks after the storm tore through their neighborhood, energy and determination were on full display as boats drug debris, including whole roofs, to ramps where others cut the debris into manageable pieces and placed it on massive piles. The immense amount of debris left from Ian throughout southwest Florida has been the subject of national headlines. There are many areas of the state where debris removal might take years, a poignant reminder why the mission of Suncoast Waterkeeper is so urgent. But from the canals of Ainger Creek, volunteers from Suncoast Waterkeeper and partners were able to help remove over 50 cubic yards of debris that day with kayaks and jon boats. Whatever could not be picked up was geotagged and will be sent to Charlotte County government for future removal by professionals.

“The number of people who showed up to help (over 50) touched our hearts. Hurricane Ian has taken so much from this community. It is wonderful to know that people care,” said Carol Powell, president of Holiday Estates Corporation.

If you would like to join in the effort to keep Suncoast waters sustainable for this and future generations, you can join Suncoast Waterkeeper, donate and have your contribution matched by the Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust. Watch a video of the cleanup online.