Sarasota Bay preservation effort becomes model for others

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jon Thaxton grew up in Sarasota and has seen the health of the waters go through several shifts and changes.  Perhaps the most memorable, was a dramatic decline in water quality in the 90s.

"Within a short 10 to 20 year period, the Bay just took a nose dive," said Thaxton. "A lot of the sea grass just started to die off, and that's what really inspired us in the 90s and the early 2000s to do something about it."

That's when Thaxton and his fellow County Commissioners took action, putting into place several ordinances to remove nitrogen from the water and protect Sarasota Bay from collapse.

Now, nearly a decade after those ordinances were put in place, their impact can be felt.  The bay is healthy and sea grass levels are up.

"There are more sea grasses here today then there were when we took the very first aerial photograph of Sarasota Bay back in the 1940s," said Thaxton, "so the program I believe can clearly be demonstrated as a success."

Meanwhile, on the East Coast of Florida, Indian River is struggling. In the last few months, the bay has seen major fish kills all due to brown tide. Those from Indian River are now looking to Sarasota Bay as a model to keep Indian River from collapse.

"We followed the Tampa model actually, and now they're following us," said Mark Alderson of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. Alderson met with those from Indian River a few months ago.

"They're having huge fish kills, huge marine mammal deaths, and their canals are full of dead fish," said Alderson of Indian River. "It's been quite a sight."

In his 20 years the Estuary Program, Alderson says he's seen serious improvements to local waters, and he says that's largely due to a commitment in local government to aggressively protect the Bay.

"It's been very gradual and very slow," said Alderson, "but over time there's just been a great improvement in the Bay."