The Newsletter of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1997

Table of Contents (Use the "back" button in your web browser to return to the top of the page).

Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium

Program Update

What is the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program?

The Future of Seagrass Meadows in the Charlotte Harbor Estuary  by Dave Tomasko, Ph. D.

Update on Early Action Projects

A History of Lofton's Island by Harry M. Green

Data Management Strategy for the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

Calendar of Upcoming Meetings/Events

Publication Information

Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium
Hundreds of people come together to discuss the past, present, and future
of Southwest Florida's human and natural resource ecology

The Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium, held on March 15 and 16 at the Holiday Inn in Punta Gorda, was truly a "watershed" event. The two-day gathering focused attention on Charlotte Harbor's large watershed by bringing together much of the knowledge and expertise of Southwest Florida.

The event was an important first-step in the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program's (CHNEP) process of bringing together public and private stakeholders to discuss critical environmental issues facing the region. Hundreds of people attended the two-day forum featuring more than 60 presentations by experts on Southwest Florida's geography, natural history, geology, biology, hydrology, and natural resource management challenges. Over 100 individuals contributed to papers that were presented in two concurrent sessions - the Public Conference and the Technical Symposium.

The Technical Symposium was well attended and speakers addressed a wide range of topics, including the history and geography of Southwest Florida, its' geological structure and process, water supply in the Charlotte Harbor Basin and discharge to the estuary, living resources, and water quality of the Charlotte Harbor region.

The Public Conference was also successful in featuring a wide range of topics. These sessions ranged from a focus on economic activity in the Peace River Basin to ecosystem management efforts, environmental education centers and programs, the Charlotte Harbor boating scene, and citizen groups that have been protecting the region for more than three decades.

The manuscripts from the Public Conference and Technical Symposium will be published after they are technically reviewed.

The Proceedings from the Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium is the first of many documents that the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program will publish and make widely available as the Program works toward the development and implementation of its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for the Charlotte Harbor study area.

To obtain a copy, call the Program Office at 941/995-1777. There is a $6.00 charge per copy .

The Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium was funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 4 through a cooperative agreement for the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. However, many agencies, organizations, and businesses were instrumental in helping to organize and sponsor the event.


Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

Florida Game & Fresh Water Fish Commission

Southwest Florida Water Management District

Polk County Natural Resources Division

Environmental Quality Laboratory

Mote Marine Laboratory

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center

Symposium Sponsors:

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

South Florida Water Management District

Southwest Florida Water Management District

Central Florida Regional Planning Council

Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council

Coffee Break Sponsors:

IMC-Agrico Company

Camp, Dresser & McKee

Coastal Environmental, Inc.

U.S. Agri-Chemicals

Program Update
A Note from the Director

Welcome to the first edition of our newsletter!

Now that the Program is officially six months old, we have some progress to share with you. Since our kick-off ceremony in October, we have been laying the foundation for our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). Some of our accomplishments include:

Two separate contracts have been initiated to survey environmental education programs and environmental monitoring programs for the entire study area. We will use this information to help us coordinate with existing efforts and organizations.

The Program Office has e-mail addresses (see back cover) and our Program's portable display is complete. Also, our World Wide Web site is now in place. Look for us at:


Our Charlotte Harbor Public Conference and Technical Symposium was very successful. Thank you to the more than 60 presenters and authors and 200 people who participated.

A Data Management Workshop was held in December 1996 (see article in this issue).

Eight Early Action Projects were selected for funding (see article is this issue).

Currently, we are developing next year's workplan and seeking local matching funds. Soon, we will start training for our Volunteer Speaker's Bureau. Our Program's schedule is very ambitious, so I encourage you to stay informed and support your Management Conference.

- Tiffany Lutterman

What is the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program?

The Program

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) is spearheading an effort to protect and preserve the Charlotte Harbor estuary complex. The CHNEP is achieving this goal through a multi-faceted approach, which includes participation from all levels of government, and from citizens, scientists, businesses, and educators from across the region.

This joint effort seeks to develop regional solutions and an action agenda in the form of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan to protect the natural resources of Southwest Florida. Local participation is not just desirable for the Program's success, it is crucial. Without the support of the citizenry in each of its communities, the harbor ecosystem cannot flourish.

Designated a National Estuary Program in 1995, the CHNEP is funded under the Clean Water Act through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is a program of the people, driven by their desire to preserve and protect the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

Program Study Area

The basins of the Peace, Myakka, and Caloosahatchee Rivers feed freshwater into the coastal area of southwest Florida. Barrier islands and coastal waters such as Lemon Bay, Matlacha Pass, Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, and Estero Bay are supplied freshwater from these three rivers and nearby areas.

The entire watershed of the Charlotte Harbor complex has a total area of approximately 4,360 square miles. The estuary itself is the second largest open water estuary in the state: it is 30 miles long and 7 miles wide with a total area of 270 square miles.

This estuary is bordered by 2 counties and several local governments and the watershed contains at least portions of 6 additional counties and numerous local governments. The watershed is subdivided by a multitude of federal, state, and regional agencies with regulatory authorities.

A series of resource management efforts have been conducted in Charlotte Harbor over the past 25 years. In addition to producing measurable improvements in the Harbor and its rivers, the efforts have yielded a solid base of local technical expertise and an involved and concerned citizenry. However, the Harbor cannot sustain a continuing trend of development and overuse without effective coordination, integration, and expansion of these management efforts.

The Future of Seagrass Meadows in the Charlotte Harbor Estuary

by Dave Tomasko, Ph.D.

Inevitably, humans cause pollution. When humans clear natural landscapes for development, they change the quantity and quality of the water that leaves these sites as stormwater runoff. Humans also eat, and what goes in must, eventually, come out. Sewage discharges have been shown, time and time again, to have a negative effect on water quality.

In estuaries such as Charlotte Harbor, seagrasses serve as vital habitats for the majority of commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish. As any angler knows, striped mullet, seatrout, redfish, and other species are commonly associated with seagrass meadows. Bay scallops are found almost exclusively in seagrass meadows. Even table shrimp, caught as adults in the Gulf of Mexico, are dependent upon seagrass meadows as habitat for juvenile stages. One of the major food items for bottlenose dolphins, the pinfish, is highly dependent upon seagrass meadows. Manatees eat seagrass directly, as does the green sea turtle. In fact, one of our common species of seagrass, turtle grass, is named after the marine reptiles that show such fondness for grazing these undersea meadows.

Seagrasses, being rooted, submerged plants in the estuarine environment, require light. The light that reaches them is filtered through the overlying water column. When human activities reduce water clarity or light, they reduce the depth to which seagrasses can grow. If they cannot grow as deep as in days past, they will not cover as much of the estuary's bottom. This results in fewer acres of seagrass and, consequently, less habitat. Which means fewer fish and shrimp and crabs. And, possibly, less of a food supply for manatees and green sea turtles. So if humans increase pollution, and pollution decreases water quality, and decreased water quality reduces seagrass coverage, then the news must be quite bad for Charlotte Harbor, right? Not necessarily.

In Tampa Bay, improvements to wastewater treatment and loading operations at the Port of Tampa in recent years are responsible for substantial improvements in water quality. The improved water quality has, in turn, allowed seagrass coverage to increase by 11 percent in recent years.

In Sarasota Bay, improvements to wastewater treatment have allowed for a recent 614 acre increase in seagrass coverage. In the upper portion of Sarasota Bay, seagrasses cover more than 80 percent of the Bay bottom in areas where water depth is less than 6 feet.

In Charlotte Harbor, most of the reduced water clarity that occurs in the summertime is not related to human activities. Most of the reduced water clarity is do to increased tannins in the water that comes from the extensive wetlands that make up the flood plain of the Peace and Myakka Rivers. This tannin-rich water is not related to pollution levels, but it can result in reduced seagrass coverage in years of above-average wet season rainfall. This phenomenon is mostly seen in the upper and western portions of Charlotte Harbor, in the areas off Punta Gorda and south to Cape Haze. In other areas, such as the eastern and southern portions of Charlotte Harbor, and in areas such as Lemon Bay and Gasparilla Bay, tannin-rich water may not be as important a factor in reducing water clarity. In these areas, humans could have more of an impact on reducing water clarity.

So what is the future of seagrass meadows in Charlotte Harbor? We know that humans can cause seagrass meadows to decline over time. And we know how to reverse this situation. We also know that not all of the seagrass meadows in the Charlotte Harbor system are the same. The trick will be to understand, and appreciate, the natural variation in seagrass coverage in some areas, without losing the ability to appropriately respond to human-induced changes in seagrass coverage in other areas.

Ongoing and planned research and monitoring will help us to meet our present and future obligations to protect these important estuarine resources.

Update on Early Action Projects

The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program has initiated contracts on the following early action projects:

For more details, call the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program at 941/995-1777.

A History of Lofton's Island

by Harry M. Green

Lofton's Island is located in the Caloosahatchee River between the two bridges which connect Fort Myers to North Fort Myers. These bridges are commonly known as the Edison Bridge and the Caloosahatchee River Bridge (Business 41 and U.S. Route 41, respectively). Lofton's Island is often used as a recreational site for local boaters and campers. Recently, however, this familiar destination is the focus of a development plan and has a new name in "Pleasure Key."

The history of Lofton's Island was communicated by Ms. Mildred Kuester Noack. Ms. Noack is the granddaughter of "JL" Lofton - the pioneer boatman who claimed the island in approximately 1911. Ms. Noack is full of lore about the island and her grandfather, JL. When I contacted her, she related many facts and anecdotes about him, his daughter, and Lofton Island.

JL Lofton was born on August 19, 1876 to Jesse and Eliza Lofton. JL, which stands for Jesse Lee, was always on the water. Ms. Noack recalled a story that her grandmother had told her about JL. As a ten or eleven year old boy, he "spotted" for the sponge divers in Tarpon Springs. When he returned home his mother would say, "It sure sounds like Jesse, but it does not look like him." His blond hair had been turned red by the sun, salt, and the chemicals used in that trade.

In 1910, JL helped dredge a "turn-around" off of downtown Fort Myers - a federal government project to allow steam boats to get in and out of downtown docks. Since JL put the dredged material in the center of the river, to form what is known as Lofton's Island, he moved onto the island in 1911 claiming it as his own. In about 1916, JL married Florence Cowell, an English lady who had come down from Boston.

Zelma, born on June 20, 1904 (she died in March 1989) was called Baby Lofton. She was the only child that lived on the island from 1911 to the mid-1930s. Baby Lofton had many pets to keep her company. She had a rabbit that she found floating downstream on a palm leaf, pelicans, a deer, and a rooster. A deer had been given to Thomas Edison by an Indian chief. When Edison went back up north, he asked JL if Baby would like to care for it and she did and soon it had three. Baby had to row herself to town to go to school and to get food for her pets. Ms. Noack recalled that Baby had to run fast to get on the river before her pets could follow. In 1924, Baby (or Zelma) married Harold F. Kuester and they had two daughters - Mildred born in 1927 and a younger sister, June. Mildred married Hans O. Noack and they still live in Fort Myers.

According to Ms. Noack, JL sold the island to Tom Phillips in about 1947 and he, in turn, sold it to A. Lowell Hunt. Hunt built a beautiful house on the island but, after he died, his wife moved back into town. The house was eventually vandalized and burned. Hunt's wife sold the island to two elderly ladies, who then sold it to a group headed by Hugh Lee Nathurst in 1989. The island that JL Lofton helped to build at the beginning of the twentieth century, and then claimed as his own, changed hands once again in October 1996 when Tom Cronin Sr. bought the island through CSL & G Development Ltd. (according to a News Press story of February 8, 1997). Only time will tell if Lofton's Island will become Pleasure Key.

(Thanks to Mildred Kuester Noack for providing much of the story of Lofton's Island, and to Mr. Stan Mulford for his help in tracing the origin of Lofton's Island. Newcomers to the area now know a part of the history of our town that is in our sight almost every day.)

Data Management Strategy for the Charlotte Harbor NEP

The goal of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan is to develop a community-based strategy that integrates the economic and natural resource limitations of the Charlotte Harbor estuarine ecosystem into a sustainable resource management plan. This plan requires the acquisition and integration of many types of existing information, the collection and presentation of new information, and specific monitoring of the ecosystem response to management activities. An information management plan is necessary to ensure that all parties can contribute to the data gathering process and have access to the information resulting from that process.

Information Management Plan Objectives

1) Identify existing information resources (data, tools, and people).

2) Determine the information needs of the many different partners.

3) Anticipate future information sources

4) Ensure access to information.

5) Identify the resources necessary to maintain information quality and access.

A workshop was held on December 17, 1996 by the Charlotte Harbor NEP to collect and provide the information which will serve as the foundation for the information management plan. The specific objectives of this workshop were to:

1) Identify specific information management problems (i.e., data gaps, inadequate data analysis, or information exchange) by documenting current information collection, interpretation, and distribution processes for the priority problems.

2) Develop recommendations from the workshop participants to resolve specific problems of information integration, distribution, and access.

The workshop participants were separated into three workgroups that were based on priority problems previously defined by the Charlotte Harbor NEP. Participants divided themselves into the following groups based on interest and facilitators volunteered to lead the workgroups. Workgroups addressed specific questions about information sources, uses, access, utility, and information gaps for each of the primary resource management tools (i.e., water quality and wetland permitting, land use zoning and planning, water use permits, and others).

Workshop Workgroups

1) Hydrological Alterations,

2) Water Quality and Land Use Management, and

3) Fish and Wildlife Habitat

Workgroup responses and comments have been collated into common tables based on three subject areas as outlined in the workshop objectives. Workshop responses were summarized as problems of data gaps, data analyses, or information exchange for each of the resource management tools listed in the tables plus additional resource management tools suggested by participants. An overall compilation was developed from the group summaries by removing multiple or redundant responses and including any comments listed in individual comments provided by participants.

Workshop Responses and Comments

1) Data Gaps,

2) Inadequate Data Analysis, and

3) Information Exchange Problems.

Workshop Results

The Workshop was designed to capture information needs and management problems from representatives of each of the major resource management programs operating in the Charlotte Harbor ecosystem. The workshop included people that represent different stages of decision-making , such as consultants and scientists who collect or generate data, state agency personnel who analyze or integrate information, and educators who distribute or use information.

Forty-two people representing a variety of organizations and interests attended and participated in the Data Management Workshop. Seventeen people also completed and submitted comments by completing the data tables provided by the Charlotte Harbor NEP Program Office. Workgroup responses were then compiled and an overall summary was made.

Forty-two different recommendations were compiled from the workshop comments. The recommendations represent problems of:

1) data gaps or a lack of information,

2) insufficient analysis or interpretation of existing information, and

3) inadequate access or exchange of existing information.

In order to preserve the diversity of comments obtained during the Workshop, the recommendations are not necessarily independent of other recommendations and may have considerable overlap in content. The wording on the recommendations or information needs was changed as little as possible in order to preserve the specific language or context of the statement.

For more information on the Data Management Strategy, please contact:

Charlotte Harbor
National Estuary Program
4980 Bayline Drive, 4th Floor
N. Fort Myers, FL 33916
Tel. 941/995-1777
E-mail:[email protected]

Calendar of Upcoming Meetings/Events

April 1997

April 11, 9:30 a.m., CHNEP Policy Committee Meeting in Wauchula, Extension Office Classroom, 941/995-1777

April 13, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m., DINNER CRUISE on Caloosahatchee River, $25.00/person, Calusa Nature Center, 941/275-3033

April 14, 1:30 p.m., CHNEP Technical Advisory Committee Meeting in Punta Gorda, Bayfront Center

April 15, 10:00 a.m., Southwest Issues Group, CHEC - Alligator Creek, 941/575-4800

April 15, 1:30 p.m., CHNEP Citizens Advisory Committee Meeting in Punta Gorda, Bayfront Center

April 16, Seeking Solutions: Public Forums on the Use of Water, Charlotte County Schools in Port Charlotte, 941/255-1120

April 19, Watershed Weekend, Calusa Nature Center in Fort Myers, 941/275-3033

April 20, On-the-Water Experiences, Calusa Nature Center in Fort Myers, 941/275-3033

April 21, 10:00 a.m., Estero Bay Agency on Bay Management, 941/656-7720

April 21, 9:00 a.m., SWFWMD Governing Board Meeting, Brooksville Service Office, 1-800-423-1476

May 1997

May 2, 9:30 a.m., CHNEP Management Committee Meeting, Venice City Hall in Venice, 941/995-1777

May 20-26, DeSoto County Watermelon Festival, County Fairgrounds in Arcadia

May 31, Peace River Clean-up, Arcadia, For more info. call Canoe Safari 941/494-1215, Canoe Outpost 941/494-1215, or UpRiver Adventure 941/494-2865, Reservations needed

Publication Information

Harbor Happenings is produced quarterly by the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program. For more information about the Program, call 941/995-1777

Contributors to this issue: Harry Green, Tiffany Lutterman, Melissa Upton, and Dave Tomasko.

Edited by: Joy Duperault and Melissa Upton.

Design and layout by: Melissa Upton

News items, photographs, and letters are welcome and may be submitted to the CHNEP office at: 4980 Bayline Drive, 4th Floor, N. Fort Myers, FL 33917. E-mail: [email protected]

The submission deadline for the next newsletter is May 31, 1997.

This project is funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 4. The contents of this document do not necessarily present the views of the EPA or the CHNEP. The mention of trade names or commercial products does not in any way constitute an endorsement or recommendation for use.