The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 28 - April 13, 2011

reel time

Things that matter most

Reel time

The McDonald's Training Center displays the crafting
and deployment of sediment tubes at the Frank Sergeant
Expo in Tampa.

If you're like I am, and I suspect you are, you have a passion for the outdoors. If you're reading this column it's a safe bet the passion extends, to a large part, to the waters that surround our islands. The fish that inhabit the grass flats, mangrove edges and oyster bars stir our imagination while we're on the water, as well as during the days when we work to support ourselves, our families and our communities. It's easy to be consumed with this daily life; that's what makes the days on the water so special. It's particularly gratifying when serendipity combines to give us an opportunity to connect to our core values in a way that supports our basic needs and/or passion.

Last week I received a call from Jim Anderson, of Sea Grass Recovery (, about the possibility of a project with Sarasota Bay Watch. Anderson, a onetime sod farmer and fisherman who combined his business and his passion to protect and restore sea grass, had a donor who wanted to sponsor a restoration project in Sarasota Bay. Anderson was inquiring if Sarasota Bay Watch and its volunteers would like to partner on the project. As it turned out, it was the perfect time, as SBW was also searching for a way to involve the public in the restoration of critical, but mostly hidden, grass flats.

Anderson has developed a system of repairing prop scars on grass flats by sewing cloth tubes, filling them with sand and installing them in prop scars to raise the elevation of the affected bottom. Having the proper elevation is critical to encourage re-growth in the damaged areas. As we discussed the project, Anderson described how, during a mitigation project he was undertaking for the Tampa airport expansion, he needed to find an outside source for sewing the sediment tubes. On his way to the Florida Department of Transportation, he happened to pass the McDonald's Training Center in Tampa and decided to stop in. The center's mission is "to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to lead lives that they choose." When he asked if the participants sewed, he received an enthusiastic yes, and a strategic alliance was established that helped people and the environment. But the story didn't end there.

A few weeks after the McDonald's Training Center and Seagrass Recovery began their association someone mentioned that the Center owned a "swamp" somewhere on Tampa Bay. The curious Anderson began to explore and found that the site, mostly submerged lands with a mangrove fringe, was once a fishing Mecca near Gibsonton, in an area that was called the Kitchen. When he compared recent aerial views with those taken in the '50s he discovered an area that was once covered in lush grass that was now all but devoid of the critical vegetation. Anderson saw the promise to restore critical habitat and wrote a restoration plan that he's circulating to locate a donor to sponsor the project.

In an irony of our times and the unfortunate state of our economy, federal and state funding has become hard to find for critical projects like the one Anderson is proposing. Not to be deterred, he is finding funding sources that he hadn't tapped into before – corporate and individual donors looking to make a difference. When I spoke to Lee Bona, chief development officer of the McDonald's Training Center, and Judith DeStasio the CFO, I found them facing cuts in their programs. Hopefully the same corporations and individual donors will step forward to help support programs like theirs. I'm looking forward to joining forces with Anderson on the Sarasota Bay Project and supporting the training center and the revitalization of critical habit that supports my passion. It makes my time on the water that much more enjoyable. Donations to the McDonald's Training Center will support people with disabilities and their efforts to provide support to Anderson and sea grass restoration projects. That's a win/win proposition and a contribution to things that matter most. To donate to the McDonald's Training Center go to or call 1-800-435-7352.

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