The Coastal and Heartland National Estuary Partnership has a new name, but its mission remains the same.

The program, formerly the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, is continuing its work to protect Charlotte Harbor’s shorelines, as well as six other Southwest Florida estuaries from Dona and Roberts Bays in Sarasota County south to Estero Bay in Lee County and their watershed drainage areas.

The program is striving to find more funding for a new living shoreline on the north side of the seawall at Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside hotel.

“Our mission is to serve as a collective, working collaboratively in a consensus-based fashion to further common initiatives and projects for the protection of these resources,” said Jennifer Hecker, CHNEP executive director. “We at the same time of the name change, expanded our boundary to cover the freshwater Caloosahatchee basin in addition to the tidal which we had already covered. This, as well as the name change, has brought in new partners or reengaged former partners, strengthening the partnership and its efforts.”

In April, the Punta Gorda Council approved an action allowing the city to apply for a new National Coastal Resilience Grant that could bring in around $250,000—depending on the size of the project — to help fund a living shoreline.

Due to financial matching costs, CHNEP and project partner The Nature Conservancy opted out of the grant application.

“The city (of Punta Gorda) and The Nature Conservancy—our partners on the Tiki Point Living Shorelines project —decided not to apply because the (financial) match requirements were too high and they didn’t have enough funding,” Hecker said. “It was not our decision to and/or not apply for the grant, we were only going to help to provide cash match towards it if the city and TNC decided to apply, which they didn’t.”

Instead, Hecker said CHNEP applied and received a “huge” $600,000 grant related to the 2010 BP oil spill.

“The first of its kind in Southwest Florida,” Hecker said. “We also received a large county contribution from Charlotte County ($130,000) towards (the) same regional hydrological restoration project.”

Living shorelines—often consisting of oyster reefs, mangroves and sea grass—are actively being used to improve water quality in bays and estuaries, to help control wave action and erosion and increase fish populations, according to Hecker.

“These areas have historically experienced a lot of storm effects like hurricanes, and so having these shoreline installations could provide additional protective barriers for the city as well as improving ecological health of the harbor that it borders,” Hecker said.

If completed, the new living shoreline could serve as a model for future projects and promote nature-based shoreline improvements throughout the city for protection and adaptation from future storm events, according to city documents.

CHNEP, which works with the Punta Gorda and other partners, already maintains one living shoreline in Peace River north of Trabue Park in Punta Gorda.

“We have nine different oyster reefs with over 300,000 mature live oysters now on them,” Hecker said. “Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day so the more oysters we get in the water, the more our water quality will be improved. Having more mangroves will allow for more of our juvenile fish to make it to adulthood which will increase fish population in the harbor.”

CHNEP was created in 1995 to protect the natural environment of Southwest Florida focusing on improving water quality in estuaries while maintaining the integrity of the natural system as a whole.

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