After 23 years of grassroots efforts and environmental restoration, the final phase of restoration at the 100-acre FISH Preserve has been completed. The Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH) championed and fundraised for the protection of the land in 2000. The preserve neighbors the historically significant Cortez Fishing Village and has a prominent link to the waters of Sarasota Bay.
Following its acquisition, the preserve underwent years of restoration that removed exotic vegetation and added waterways to connect flow to the Bay and restore aquatic habitats. Restoration of the FISH Preserve was a collaborative effort between FISH, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Friday, November 3, 2023. The sold-out event featured remarks from the US EPA Region 4 Regional Administrator Jeaneanne Gettle, Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge, SBEP staff, and FISH Treasurer, Jane von Hahmann.
In addition to the many partners and organizations who were thanked for their participation, the ceremony recognized two individuals for their exceptional dedication to the preserve. The first dedication plaque was presented to SBEP Staff Scientist, Dr. Jay Leverone, who over many years led numerous phases of environmental restoration at the preserve. Also honored was Theresa Bert, wife of John Stevely. John was a former Sea Grant Agent for Manatee County and a founding member of both FISH and the annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival. John passed away in 2022. He is remembered fondly by former colleagues and community members throughout Cortez.