Originally published in Florida Weekly on June 3, 2020

Water. From the grand rivers, coastal sounds and bays throughout the region, to the creeks and canals that meander through our neighborhoods, to the glistening Gulf of Mexico, water is in so many ways a crucial lifeblood for Southwest Florida.

Providing stewardship and protection for this vital natural resource can be anything but simple. The convergence of our marine ecosystem and the pressures produced by a combination of natural and man-made circumstances require constant attention to a delicate balance. A quick glance back reminds us of the interconnectedness of our lives with this water wonderland as our community was recently compelled to overcome the ripple effects of red tide and blue-green algae blooms.

Stewardship and educated mindfulness regarding our local waters are at the core of Calusa Waterkeeper’s mission. One of 13 nonprofit member organizations of Waterkeepers Florida, the Calusa Waterkeeper is dedicated to the protection of an expansive region that includes the Caloosahatchee River and estuary, Lake Okeechobee, Nicodemus Slough in Glades County, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay and the near-shore waters and watersheds of Lee County.

For Ruth Watkins, the organization’s president, a key is grassroots education that breaks down oftentimes daunting, complex science-based issues into opportunities for community engagement.

“When residents are aware that a public hearing is scheduled, or decision is to be made regarding a specific issue they can readily identify with because it’s going to impact their neighborhood, their hometown, that’s when their passion leads to advocacy on that specific issue which, in turn, contributes to impact on the larger, more complex issues,” she says.

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