Originally published in The Island Sun Publication on August 6, 2021

People visit Sanibel because of the warm weather, beautiful, crystal clear waters and beaches strewn with collectible shells. At least that is how Sanibel and the surrounding regions look some part of the year. Other times throughout the year are a completely different story, one that is not nearly so romantic or beautiful. An unfortunate fact that many of us find all too familiar.

This week’s speaker was John Cassani with Calusa Waterkeeper, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of the Caloosahatchee river and estuary, Lake Okeechobee, Nicodemus Slough, Charlotte Harbor, Estero Bay, the near-shore waters of Lee County and their watersheds, which is nearly 1,000 square miles of water. He shared with us some grim statistics about the health of our waterways. Studies have shown that pollutants mainly enter our waterways through storm run-off, agriculture and the effects of climate change by droughts and then extreme rainfall.

Cassani described the effects of the cyanobacteria that is in the waters, causing harm to our waterways, the life within the water and the health effects to people who live and work on or around the water. All of this was enough to scare even the most stoic of us, raising concerns for our most vulnerable population’s health, the elderly as well as the children living on the islands and coastal areas.

Cassani’s professional career as an ecologist started here in Lee County in 1978 after receiving degrees in biology and fish and wildlife. From 1978 to 2014, he worked as a resource manager for local government, managing waterways of Southwest Florida. He has authored peer-reviewed scientific publications and contributed to popular media sources on resource management, history, water policy and conservation issues.

His service on advisory boards, his commitment to community and involvement with land and water conservation has led to recognition from various civic groups, including Florida Audubon Society, Estero Bay Agency on Bay Management, Lee County Government, Everglades Coalition, American Fisheries Society, and the Alberta provincial government. In November 2016, Cassani accepted the position with Calusa Waterkeeper, a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance.

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