6 Questions

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Dr. Ryan Orgera, SCCF Director

Periodically, The Island Sand Paper asks a community leader 6 Questions. This edition features Dr. Ryan Orgera, who began his second year as the Chief Executive Officer of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) on January 1. The SCCF works to conserve the coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel, Captiva and the surrounding watershed; for more information, see www.sccf.org.

Q1: What primary measures are the SCCF taking to protect water quality?

The SCCF employs many measures but there are a few major components. First, our Marine Laboratory conducts cutting-edge research on a wide variety of water quality issues, such as Blue-Green Algae and Red Tide. Another is our River, Estuary & Coastal Observing Network, or RECON, that offers near-real time water quality data. A crucial component is we work with governments and non-profits across the State to form policy and programs to educate and advocate for water quality initiatives, as establishing good relationships with and being a reliable resource for our local elected officials is essential. Finally, we conserve land that includes valuable wetland acres, as wetlands are incredibly important to local water quality; the more wetlands we preserve, the more we enhance water quality.

Q2: What can the average person do to help preserve our water quality?

If you have yet to do so, go to the SCCF homepage and sign up to receive our Public Policy Action Alerts, as we can inform you about pending issues almost immediately. Second, each and every one of us can take actions to improve water quality literally in our own backyards! Eliminate the use of fertilizers and plant native species that will contain or even eliminate runoff. Third, support groups like the SCCF, either with your time or monetary donations or both, as there are many groups in our immediate area that work for better water. This is an incredibly complex issue to tackle but we all play an important role as consumers and citizens, so the decisions and choices we make on our own properties and homes matter, so we must make the right choices.

Q3: You have had the unenviable task of taking over for a living legend in Dr. Erick Lindblad, who led the SCCF for 32 years. How did you learn about the position; what did you previously know about the SCCF; how was your transition; and what do you appreciate about the SCCF now that you did not know one year ago?

A friend who grew up on Sanibel knew I was personally and professionally ready to return to Southwest Florida and encouraged me to apply. I previously worked on Florida issues for the United States Senate, so I knew about the quality of the institution, as the SCCF was a constant resource and a major player in many areas. As for my first year, all I can say is one word – Incredible! My wife Alicia, who is the Director of another non-profit on Sanibel, and I moved to this island and the community welcomed us with open arms! I am not someone who comes through the door and makes changes for changes’ sake, as my goal is to do what we do extremely well and to improve where we need improvement, and we spent quite a bit of energy over the last year to make the SCCF the best possible environmental stewards we can be.

That said, there are things I know today that I did not a year ago. The first is the respect the SCCF has all across the environmental movement, not only in the island communities but well beyond, and it is humbling to realize how many people believe in and trust us. Secondly, we have an incredibly dedicated staff who are topnotch and consummate professionals who make my life so easy! Third is the breadth of topics and the scale in which my coworkers specialize, and that is astounding for an institution our size, in that we do so many things so well and lead the way in so many areas – this is such an amazing team!

Q4: The SCCF merger with the Sanibel Sea School (SSS) became official on January 1. How did this come about and how will it improve services.

The SCCF has an outstanding 52-year history on Sanibel and the SSS has an outstanding 15-year history on the island, and we fight for the same things and we love and cherish our natural world, so it seemed to make sense to initiate merger discussions with their former Executive Director, Dr. Bruce Neill, who is now the SCCF Director of Education. In examining a merger, we quickly discovered joining the two entities into one would be the best way to maximize the investment and support each separately received to achieve maximum results for our community and natural world. The process from beginning to end took ten months and was very smooth and fair to both institutions and all employees.

Q5: You have extensive professional expertise with Climate Change. What are the greatest dangers to our barrier islands and what actions can we take to ensure their long-term preservation?

That is not only a heck of a question but a delicate one! I live here too and care deeply about this place and community, and that includes its longevity, so it is important we help empower people to take action within the course of their daily lives. Before we can begin this process, however, it is crucial we all accept that Climate Change is not a politically partisan issue but really occurring, as we need to tackle this problem in a team effort, with all of us on board!

We don’t need Climate Change to be the property of just one political party, but for everyone to accept for sure it is real, and the SCCF and other non-profits must do a better job in assuring all citizens that Climate Change is beyond scientific debate and not a fabrication, so we can start in earnest the quest for long-term realistic scientific solutions. Barrier islands must take the lead, as those of us who live and work and own businesses and property on these locations will feel the effects first and worst due to our geography. I am not an alarmist, but the more time we engage in political debate, the more time we delay in undertaking decisive action. We must get all politicians on the same page, because until we do, it will be difficult to initiate corrective actions.

Q6: What is the best part about being the SCCF Chief Executive Officer?

I love speaking about and advocate for natural issues because this is why I am here! I care deeply about the natural world and feel incredibly lucky I can be a voice for this magnificent, beautiful, natural place. I grew up in Southwest Florida and many of the changes over that time are painful to witness, especially in areas like Climate Change, water quality and land conservation, so the support I receive from our amazing staff, Board and volunteers is tremendous. Any success I achieve is a direct credit to them, so it is an honor to be in their midst!