The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 15 No. 16 - February 11, 2015


The Cortez dream

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


Art, music and seafood will attract schools of people to
the 33rd Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival
on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 14-15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
in the historic Cortez fishing village. The theme is
“I’m a grouper groupie!”

It’s been a long time coming.

Back in 2000, the Cortez village community-based organization, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH), took a huge gamble – purchasing 95 acres of environmentally-sensitive land east of the village along the Sarasota Bay shoreline.

The dream was to pay off the $250,000 loan, preserve the existing mangrove wetlands and restore degraded habitats that had seen decades of neglect and abuse.

Eventually, proceeds from the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival paid off the debt. Gradually, projects took shape through grants with many partners, and the process began of removing illegally dumped construction debris, removing invasive vegetation and recreating wetland habitat.

Last year, the work really ramped up. Heavy earth-moving equipment was brought in. Acres have been cleared and shallow water habitat recreated. Visitors to the FISH Preserve can now bear witness to the dramatic progress.

The community can be rightfully proud, but recognizes that thanks go to a lot of people, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and especially the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

But probably the biggest note of thanks goes to the folks that attend Cortez Festival each year. Sure the festival is a lot of fun, but participants are also contributing to the restoration of vital wildlife habitat.

The festival cause has been endorsed by famed ocean-explorer Jean-Michelle Cousteau, founder of the Oceans Future Society, who wrote, “Your FISH Preserve is very impressive. Its economic value cannot be judged in terms of dollars alone. I have seen from many places around the world, communities like the fishing village of Cortez, suffering from the demise of the natural resources base on which they depend. Your project is an important reminder of the vital connections between nature and humanity.”

You can support the FISH Preserve by attending the festival this weekend.

Admission is $3, with children under 12 free.

Head west toward the beaches on Cortez Road to the entrance at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W. Offsite parking is available at G.T Bray Park and overflow parking is at 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton (turn east off 59th Street onto 33rd Avenue Drive.) or at Coquina Beach with a shuttle bus to Cortez ($2.50 round trip). Free expanded parking is east of the village off Cortez Road, a five minute walk from the gate. Pay parking is available in the western part of Cortez village.

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