Conservation Foundation and Sea School to Merge


The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) held its Annual Meeting at the Bailey Homestead Preserve Pavilion at 1300 Periwinkle Way on Tuesday, December 10, before a standing-room-only crowd of roughly 200 people. In addition to routine business matters, SCCF leadership officially announced its upcoming merger with the Sanibel Sea School (SSS) on Wednesday, January 1, 2020!

Outgoing SCCF Board of Directors President Doug Ryckman stated, This past year has been a historic one for the SCCF from a number of perspectives. We used a $3 million organizational investment for 14 program areas through your support. We have 7,841 members and supporters, including 300 active volunteers who contributed just under 14,000 hours in a labor of love to SCCF’s more than 50 years as part of this community! Our endowment is just north of $6 million and we use that to support the SCCF by $400,000 to $500,000 annually, to preserve the SCCF into the future.”

Guests jam the Bailey Homestead Preserve Pavilion for the SCCF Annual Meeting.

Ryckman noted two crucial 2019 decisions: “First, the SCCF had to replace Erick Lindblad, our Chief Executive Officer of 32 years, and we successfully did that by hiring Dr. Ryan Orgera, so our future is brighter than ever as we embrace this new horizon. Through his leadership, Ryan is everything our search committee and Board hoped he would be to successfully move forward. Secondly, we are broadly expanding our educational capabilities, as last February, we began discussions with the SSS on some sort of magical connection to put the two organizations together. There was almost an immediate conservation chemistry between Ryan and Dr. Bruce Neill, the SSS cofounder, who speak the same language. As we looked at the SSS programs, people, culture and governance, we thought a merger would be amazing.”

Effective January 1, 2020, the two will join forces, “with the SSS becoming the educational arm and department of the SCCF,” Ryckman explained. “Their employees and building assets will become part of the SCCF, with no cash or debt required to make this happen. This is a remarkable opportunity for both of us, with an unmatched educational capability, as the SCCF will add six SSS educators, with proper funding and resources. It is fair to say that the SCCF and SSS together will make our island better off through their combination.”


Founded in 1967, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s mission is the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel, Captiva and their surrounding watershed. From its earliest days, the SCCF is well-known for its impressive acquisition record of land trust holdings. Today, the SCCF is the largest landowner on Sanibel Island, as it manages over 1,200 acres there, an additional 600 acres on Captiva and adjacent islands, and another 470 managed by the State of Florida or the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. SCCF programs include wildlife & habitat management, sea turtle research and monitoring, environmental education, natural resource policy and its Marine Research Laboratory and Native Landscapes & Garden Center. The 501c3 Non-Profit partners with conservation donors and the public sector, including the City of Sanibel and J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Evelyn and Dr. Bruce Neill founded the Sanibel Sea School in 2005 as a 501c3 organization to teach children and adults about marine ecosystems and ocean conservation through experimental educational opportunities for children and adults. In addition to its main facility at 455 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel, it has two satellite locations, at Sanibel’s Sundial Beach Resort & Spa as well as Captiva’s South Seas Island Resort.

Most Rewarding Year

“This past year has gone by in warp speed, full of hard work and adventure,” exclaimed Orgera in recalling his first 12 months as the SCCF Chief Executive Officer! “I want to sincerely thank everyone for your amazing welcome to this island and allowing me to experience the most rewarding year of my life! I am surrounded by an army of extraordinary people, with a terrific staff, engaged Board, and tireless volunteers and invaluable supporters who all led to a year full of successes, from our native landscaping department, habitat management crews who burned 30 acres in controlled burns for conservation lands, and the restoration of Sanibel marshes and 15 acres of wetlands. We helped to target an international ring of wildlife poachers of our sea turtles for the animal trade in China, and our Coastal Wildlife Department drew significant attention for their sea turtle nesting work that resulted in 48,442 hatchlings that is an incredible record, their efforts for seabirds, and the news that we had 4 Snowy plover chicks fledge that they assure me is a good number.”

Dr. Orgera praised the SCCF Legislative Department “for its work with our area legislators to secure Everglades funding and for fighting the battle on behalf of all of us along with our Marine Research Laboratory to provide information on Red Tide and Blue-Green Algae to our citizens and governments alike.”

On top of these accomplishments, Dr. Orgera noted that the “SCCF is now adding another incredible component in the Sanibel Sea School, with conversations beginning ten months ago, and now here we are – the SCCF and SSS are officially married! Our organizations love, care for, and understand the natural world and we want the same results, so the merger will allow us to tap into a new energy for conservation like few others can, to create a true force of and for nature. We are committed to the best use of our resources so today we turn ‘Them’ and ‘We’ into ‘Us’ as a single family, so welcome to our new family!”

Brush of Excellence Art Award

SCCF Board Member Sandy Gross presented the “Brush of Excellence Environmental Art Award,” in tribute to the late J.N. “Ding” Darling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, artist and conservation champion who had a winter home on Captiva Island. Following his 1962 death, friends and admirers formed the “Ding” Darling Foundation that led to the National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in his name. The “Brush of Excellence Environmental Art Award” is a continuing tribute to Darling’s legacy through an annual recognition of environmental artists who contribute to Florida conservation.

SCCF Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ryan Orgera, thanks the audience “for the most rewarding year of my life!”

“This year, our Award recipient spoke to 29 classes at the Sanibel Sea School,” said Gross. “Her photography work captured the courtship of the Great Blue Heron, out in the Preserve, to illustrate the wonder of nature through her lens. Our ‘Brush of Excellence Award’ winner started taking photographs in 1937 with a box camera, attended The Juilliard School and studied playwriting at Johns Hopkins University. She and her husband took in many foster children and she is a certified yoga instructor for 61 years. In 1981, she became a fulltime Sanibel resident, to live within easy distance of ‘Ding’ Darling. Her works grace magazine covers, as her lens captures the emotions of the subject. It is our pleasure to present the ‘Brush of Excellence Environmental Art Award’ to Sally Rich!”

“I could not be more surprised to receive this award,” said Rich. “I enjoy taking all my pictures, being outside, and living here, so thank you to the SCCF for all the work you do to preserve it for our families and posterity! We all love it and every single time our family comes back, they don’t want anything to change, so thank you for keeping it so much the same and natural.” Rich’s display will be in the Bailey Homestead Preserve through April 2020, with a changeover of some of her works in January.