Coinciding with the ongoing Blind Pass dredging project, Lee County officials have proposed the establishment of a pole-and-troll zone - an area where boaters will not be allowed to run their internal combustion engines - in the Wulfert Flats region adjacent to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Members of the Lee County Department of Natural Resources, along with support from Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Sanibel and the "Ding" NWR, held three public meetings this week detailing the proposed zone, which they say needs to be done to protect existing seagrass beds located within the Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve.
To move forward with their plan, Lee County Commissioners had requested that project officials conduct those sessions to gain feedback - positive or negative - from the community and the effect it might have on local industry, including commercial fishing. Commissioners and the DEP also stated that before it is approved, the proposed pole-and-troll zone "must be in the public interest."
Dredging within the aquatic preserve had been strongly discouraged, not just because the work would cause some damage to the already scarred seagrass beds within Wulfert Flats, but also due to the important ecological values associated with this state-designated protected area.
Seagrass beds serve as a food source, a protective habitat and nursery area for many marine species including fish and shellfish - species which local fishermen greatly depend upon - manatees and loggerhead sea turtles. Furthermore, indications are that the zone may help improve water quality within the delicate eco-system of Southwest Florida, within areas already impacted by sediment and turbidity concerns.
Establishing a pole-and-troll zone will assist in the recovery of damaged seagrass beds, which may take between five and 10 years to fully recover. But without such recovery, what will the future hold for our eco-system? Or our economy, for that matter?
Boaters and commercial fishermen who may have balked at the idea of establishing a pole-and-troll zone should reconsider their stance, and look at the bigger picture here. What good will an unhealthy Wulfert Flats be in the coming years if the vital seagrass beds cannot provide adequate food or shelter for the fish species they harvest in their work? Fish will go elsewhere. And so will recreational anglers and the tourism industry associated with it.
By all means, everybody on the islands, and visitors who enjoy our local waters, should support pole-and-troll zones within Wulfert Flats. We do.
- Reporter editorial