Manatee County parks leaders cut a ribbon on Friday to officially open a 135-acre habitat expansion for Robinson Preserve in Bradenton. And fairly soon, Southwest Florida's anglers can probably start chopping bait again for prized redfish.
"The Robinson Preserve [project] fulfills a pledge we make every day to our community – prioritizing environmental restoration and improving coastal water quality," Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker said in a press release.
Roughly 100 nature enthusiasts and anglers came together for the event. Many also volunteered to assist a special project to replenish the state's red drum (aka redfish) population, helping to release 2,000 juveniles. The grownups remain off-limits by state order through May 31.
The restocking effort was the newest collaboration for one of Florida’s odd couples: Duke Energy – with its history of federal environmental violations – and the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida.
"Revitalizing the redfish population through these releases is essential to helping restock this iconic species," CCA Florida leader Brian Gorski said. "Our restocking initiative with Duke Energy [is] a symbiotic relationship sharing the same goal – to improve our coastal environments and waterways."
The 8- to 12-inch redfish were reared at Duke’s Crystal River Mariculture Center in Citrus County.
Improvements at the now 684-acre preserve include oyster bars and thousands of native plants, and backwater nursery habitat that stakeholders call ideal for snook, tarpon and redfish. The roughly $2.8 million project also adds eco-friendly new pavilions, restrooms, kayak storage tubes, benches, and trailside shade structures.
"Our ongoing efforts with CCA Florida are helping repopulate redfish in the Gulf ecosystem ... and [Duke] is proud to be a small part," Duke Energy Florida President Catherine Stempien also said in a statement.
The afternoon event began in the Canopy Zone at Robinson Preserve’s southern entrance, 10299 Ninth Ave. NW. in Bradenton.
Redfish remains under extended catch-and-release rules from Gordon Pass in Naples to the Hernando/Pasco county line. A red tide that lasted 16 months, ending in mid-February 2019, is responsible for that. But the FWC’s executive order is set to expire June 1.
Duke and CCA Florida are united, each said, to address the decline in redfish and other major Florida marine species that sustained deep losses during the Karenia brevis bloom. Since 2018, the Fortune 125 company and the nonprofit conservation group have released roughly 36,000 redfish in state coastal areas.
The Crystal River Mariculture Center has cultivated more than 4 million fish, shrimp and crabs for release into the Gulf in the past 30 years, according to Duke.
For Robinson Preserve and the county community, Hunsicker said, "This restoration serves as an affirmation that our efforts will continue in supporting local fisheries.”
Land for the expansion was acquired in 2012 in a deal steered by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and supported with $3.2 million from Mosaic Company. At the time, developers had their eyes on residential projects.
The final phase began in May 2020 and received a mixture of grants, including $1.5 million in BP Deep Horizon oil spill dollars distributed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Grants also came from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the FWC.
For more, visit Robinson Preserve on the county's website.
» Photos provided by Manatee County, CCA Florida.
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