After last year’s red tide and blue-green algae epidemic in Southwest Florida, the need to protect Florida waterways couldn’t be more urgent.

One program in the business of saving and restoring these habitats is the Charlotte Harbor Natural Estuary program.

Last week, the Punta Gorda Council, representing the organization as a local host agency, approved a $75,000 grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for funding to be received by CHNEP.

“The FDEP has, for the past couple of years, provided that amount of funding,” said Jennifer Hecker, CHNEP executive director. “We are happy and grateful to continue to receive funding support from them.”

In their efforts, CHNEP oversees a 4,700-square-mile service area that stretches from Charlotte, Bonita Springs and Venice, up to Winter Haven.

The program’s existence is primarily based on public and privately donated funds. They also received $600,000 from the United States Environmental Protection Agency as part of the federal clean water act.

“We do a lot of work on water quality, sea grass and oyster reef restoration and preservation to protect and restore our water resources,” said Hecker. “That’s our primary objective. We also work to protect our native wildlife populations including fisheries and to engage and power the public to protect these resources through public education.”

An estuary is a tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream. Estuaries and their watersheds that the CHNEP protects include:

  • Dona and Roberts Bays
  • Lemon Bay
  • Charlotte Harbor
  • Tidal Caloosahatchee
  • Pine Island Sound
  • Estero Bay

“We just finished a sea grass planting in the Caloosahatchee River and that has taken hold and we have first signs of (growth) in that river in a decade. Endangered manatees use that sea grass.”

Hecker said they get a variety of different state contributions as well as funds from local governments. All the cities and counties are asked to contribute in varying amounts. They also receive contributions from private citizens to help their cause.

“All these contributions help us fund different types of restoration and education initiative we are protecting,” said Hecker.

Harmful algae blooms continue to plague waters throughout the CHNEP area, according to CHNEP’s website. Nutrient pollution has been entering the area’s waterways for decades. There is no easy quick fix, but with further investments, CHNEP is determined to reduce harmful algae blooms that are fueled by that pollution.

To support CHNEP and their water preservation efforts, go online to www.chnep.org.

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