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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Coastal Water Quality: land-based activity determines the quality & related economic impact

In 2021, Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder & CEO Holly Elmore returned to her hometown, Sarasota, Florida, after residing in Atlanta for 40 years, 37 years in her eclectic urban condo. Along with Holly, the Ei national and global headquarters moved to Florida. The IMPACT Magazine article, Ei Moves!, chronicles activities as Ei settled into Sarasota and joined the empowering environmental community.

Upon arriving in Sarasota, Holly immediately embarked on building a local Lambda Alpha International group of At-Large members. Holly scheduled Ei- and LAI-introduction meetings with the Sarasota environmental leadership. With nearly 100% success, the environmental leaders accepted Holly's LAI At-Large-member nominations.

Lambda Alpha International
Lambda Alpha International (LAI) is a 90-years-old honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

LAI operates through a network of chapters. A LAI Chapter provides a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its history and designated purposes.

In December 2013, Holly was inducted into membership and served on the LAI Atlanta Chapter Board until her 2021 return to Florida.  As the International Assistant Communications Director, Holly serves on the LAI Global Executive Committee.

With no current chapter in Florida, Holly established an environmental Leadership Group (LG) of At-Large LAI members; intentions are to launch a formal LAI Chapter in the future once membership expands beyond the environmental community to a broad spectrum of land economics professionals.

The Leadership Group

Sarasota-barrier island beach
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Established in late 2021, the LG consists of prominent environmental leaders in the Sarasota area with a stated commitment to the economic impact of water quality on the region. Located on the Central Florida Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) Coast, Sarasota is a gem in The Sunshine State. With amazing barrier-island beaches (Siesta Key was named #1 beach in the U.S. by TripAdvisor,) and lovely intracoastal waterways, Sarasota's economy is water-quality based and driven by tourism.

CFGCC members include the below prominent Sarasota leaders:

  • Aaron Virgin, Save our Seabirds CEO
  • Bridgett Luther, Table2Farms Founder & Visionary
  • Charles Reith, Ph.D, Suncoast Urban Reforesters Founder
  • Christine Johnson, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast President
  • Dave Tomasko, Ph,D, Sarasota Bay Estuary Foundation Executive Director
  • Holly Elmore, Ei Founder & CEO
  • Jon Thaxton, Gulf Coast Community Foundation SVP for Community Investment
  • Mary Anne Bowie, FAICP, Retired & Universal Unitarian Green Team Chair
  • Sandy Gilbert, Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) Chair
  • Tim Rumage, Ringling College of Art & Design Professor of Environmental Studies
Community members, along with their respective headshots and bios, are listed on the Ei LG page.

As shared by Christine, the poignant quote by Luna Leopold sets the theme for the LG:

The health of our waters depends upon how well we live on the land

The LG members are committed to action via projects, education, and collaboration within the Sarasota community; initial focus is on the Sarasota Bay-water quality including prevention of contaminants flowing from the land and cleansing pollutants within the water.

Coastal-Water Quality: challenges, solutions, and economic impact
With tourism a major regional economic driver, it is imperative to retain the pristine status of the region's barrier-island beaches, the bays and estuaries, the Gulf, and inland water-oriented recreation areas. 

Ei orchestrated an impressive February 17, 2023 LAI Coastal-Water Quality: Challenges, Solutions, and Economic Impact Global Webinar. The global webinar was the second program in an eighteen-month series about water and land economics around the globe hosted by the LAI Global Water Group.

LAI LG Members shared on global-coastal-water challenges along with the economic impact to the local and regional communities. With a well-orchestrated plan, via the Water-Quality Playbook, community organizations execute programs designed to prevent water contamination from land use and to cleanse contaminates in the water.

The Sarasota Bay Report Card documents achievements and remaining challenging scenarios. Teamwork is required for success with support provided by local, state, and federal governments as well as the community (foundations and taxpayers.)

Panelists included:

  • David Tomasko, Ph.D
  • Jon Thaxton
  • Christine Johnson
  • Sandy Gilbert

Sarasota ROCKS when it comes to water-quality commitments; after all, the local economy and way of life depend on healthy waters!

Watch the webinar recording on LAI TV to learn about Sarasota’s successful collaborative water-quality projects and programs; the Regeneration in ACTION (RiA) Magazine article, Coastal-Water Quality: Challenges, Solutions, and Economic Impact, provides an in-depth synopsis of the webinar content; panelist PPT presentations are available for download within the article copy.

In-the Water Projects
START is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1995 to reduce the excess nutrients in our waterways that feed red tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs.) START's mission is accomplished via public-education programs, water-quality government outreach, and nutrient-control programs. Sandy Gilbert is the START Chair and Charles Reith serves on the Board.

Healthy Pond Collaborative
According to START, stormwater contributes 65% of the nitrogen in Sarasota Bay, which feeds red tide and causes other damage to water quality and wildlife. You may call them lakes, but the more than 6,000 bodies of water in Sarasota County are all manmade and only operate at 40% to 60% efficiency in removing the excess nutrients that contribute to water pollution.

Sandy speaking at the bayside press conference
photo courtesy of the
Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation
On September 22, 2021, Sandy accepted the initial $250,000 START grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation to develop a regional “Healthy Pond Collaborative (HPC)” initiative at a bayside press conference.

HPC objectives are threefold: 1> control erosion, 2> improve pond-filtering efficiency, and 3> help implement cost-efficient pond-maintenance programs. This unique effort and collaboration helps establish state-wide and national models that may be recreated in other communities.

Overall, stormwater-maintenance best practices are cost effective in the long run and reduce homeowners' and HOAs' landscape- and grounds-maintenance costs. 

Added bonus: a real estate study showed that homes on healthy ponds have a 20% increased property value.

In 2022, the HPC funded the installation of over 4.3 miles of newly planted pond shorelines in Sarasota County and another 2.9 miles in Manatee County; the planted shorelines, along with no-mow zones, filter the excess nutrients in stormwater runoff before it flows downstream to the Bay.

The LAI KeyNotes post, Solutions to Avoid Red Tide (START) Launches Regional Healthy Ponds Collaborative, announces the HPC initiative and features the press conference.

Gulf Coast Oyster Recycling and Renewal 
Another successful START in-water endeavor is the Gulf Coast Oyster Recycling and Renewal (GCORR) Program. According to the START website:

Charles, Tim, and Mary Anne are joined
by John Lambie at the event reception.
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Restoring our local oyster population is a top environmental priority because of the critical role they play in improving water quality and supporting other species. One mature oyster can filter from 9 to 50 gallons of seawater every day. That helps remove nitrogen and phosphorus that clouds the water column and can feed red tide and other harmful algae blooms (HABS). Clearer water allows more sunlight to penetrate the surface helping to grow more and healthier seagrass, another key species for improving water quality.

In April, LAI Community members - Charles, Holly, Tim, Mary Anne, and Aaron - attended the Sarasota Film Festival screening of Unfiltered: the truth about oysters to support Sandy. The film features the GCORR including an interview with Sandy, and START is a "Friend of the Film."

Land-Based Projects
As exemplified by Luna Leopold's quote, land-based activities directly impact the Sarasota Bay water quality. Rewilding land back to its natural state restores watershed systems, prevents soil erosion, eliminates the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and the "cides" - pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, regenerates soil ecosystems, and provides habitat and food for local and migrating wildlife.

The Quads & Bobby Jones Golf Course
Working closely with local governments and organizations, The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast (CFGC) secured conservation easements on The Quads and Bobby Jones Golf Course.

Bobby Jones Golf Course
photo courtesy of CFGC
Partnering with the Sarasota Audubon Society, CFGC obtained conservation easements from Sarasota County on three of the four 11-acre Quad parcels located just east of I-75. Contiguous to the world-renowned birding site, The Celery Fields, the Quads project intends to augment bird habitat by planting a forest on one of the parcels. Though there is ample opportunity for unique human access, a primary focus is rewilding the land for the benefit of wildlife.

Originally opened in 1926 as the 18-hole Sarasota Municipal Golf Course, the City of Sarasota-owned golf course was renamed the Bobby Jones Golf Course and eventually expanded to 45 holes over 300 acres. In January 2022, the City of  Sarasota donated a conservation easement to the CFGC with the provisions that a 27-hole course will use 45 acres; the remaining land was dedicated to wetland restoration.

START is a partner in the Bobby Jones Golf Course wetland restoration.

Thanks to Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota donating conservation easements on The Quads (33 acres) and the Bobby Jones Golf Complex (300 acres,) the CFGC will ensure wetlands are restored, provide urban-wildlife food and habit, create unique public access, and improve the area's water quality.

Renowned Japanese botanist and ecologist Akira Miyawaki (1928 – 2021) developed the Miyawaki method for microforests. In 1972, Miyawaki installed his first microforest at the Nippon Steel Corporation's plant in ┼îita Prefecture. According to Urban Forests, since the 1980's over 2000 microforests were successfully planted across the globe using the Miyawaki method.

Charles honors Climate First at the Heritage
Harbor Microforest Planting, Sandy is in the back.
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Randomized planting of native-tree saplings creates four layers: canopy tree, tree, sub-tree, and shrub; trees within each category are not planted next to each other.

Due to the dense planting and fast growth, microforests draw down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, via photosynthesis, at a faster rate (10X) than traditional forests. Microforests have a cooling impact on and provide a natural oasis within urban environments. With indigenous trees and shrubs, microforests are a haven for urban wildlife via food, habitat, and refuge from buildings and impervious surfaces.

Founded by Charles, Suncoast Urban Reforesters (SURF) is a collaborative organization dedicated to installing a series of microforests on Florida's Central Gulf Coast. SURF operates within START's organization structure.

To date, SURF boasts the successful installation of five local microforests, ranging in size from a 1/4 of an acre to a full acre. Four additional microforests and two living walls are in the development stages.

SURF microforests focus on erosion control and stormwater abatement. As stormwater often contains contaminants including nitrogen-based fertilizers, stormwater abatement aids in the prevention of severe and costly red tide outbreaks. 

Tim plant tree saplings
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
Red tide occurs when there is a higher-than-normal concentration of Karenia brevis, a microscopic algae, in the nearby Gulf of Mexico; Karenia brevis feeds on nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants. Thus, a microforest's absorption of stormwater prevents the flow of contaminated stormwater into waterways that eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico and helps to deter red tide outbreaks.

Tim works closely with Charles on the SURF microforests planning and development, Mary Anne routinely volunteers at microforest-planting days, and Holly serves as the official START/SURF photographer. Additionally, Holly mentors Zach Zildjian, Zach Zildjian Design Services owner, who designs the microforest footprint and oversees the tree-planting day.

The RiA article, Urban Afforestation: Food Forests and Microforests, introduces microforests and features the Heritage Harbor Microforest-planting day orchestrated by SURF; The Holly Elmore Images(HEI) Heritage Harbor Microforest Planting album gives a still-photo documentary of the event.

Save our Seabirds (SOS)
Via an Ei introduction, Charles and Aaron met at the SOS property to strategize on how to incorporate a microforest into the landscape designs. Though the microforest is a year to so away, Aaron is committed to rewilding the property via replacing invasive, non-native species with native plants.

Aaron & Charles 
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
In May 2022, Holly introduced Aaron to Pam Callender of Lifelines who specializes in native-plant-landscape design. Funded by a Longboat Key Garden Club grant, Aaron contracted with Pam to design the transformation of an unsightly drainage ditch into a stormwater-demonstration garden. Native plants were selected for coastal properties and bird habitat. On February 28, 2023, Pam oversaw the installation of 360 plants (54 species) by volunteers and Aaron himself!

The RiA Magazine article, Ei Connections: Save our Seabirds | Lifelines, showcases the Ei Connection as well as the Lifelines drainage-ditch transformation; the HEI album, Save our Seabirds / Lifelines, provides a pictorial recap.

Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots
When she returned to Sarasota, Florida, Holly dedicated her spacious approximately 8,500-square-foot yard to two rewilding pilots. The front-yard native-plant-landscape pilot provides habitat and food for local urban wildlife; the bountiful insect population is the base of the predator-prey hierarchy and supports a robust wildlife community. 

Charles strategizing with Zach & his team
in the backyard pilot.
photo courtesy of Holly Elmore Images
The backyard pilot follows permaculture-oriented-landscape (POL) practices with an emphasis on human-food-producing plants. Thus, the general rule for the backyard landscape: any non-native plants must produce human food and/or provide direct soil-ecosystem benefit.

While the front-yard landscape is strictly native plants and was installed over a two-day period, the backyard pilot is an evolutionary process. For nearly nine months, the backyard was permitted to return to its "wild state" with abundant plant diversity; a variety of happy insects frolicked in the knee-high grass infiltrated with flowering plants.

Beginning in early 2022, the backyard was slowly "tamed" with mulched paths, a banana-compost circle, a row of native-blueberry bushes under the roof dripline, a pollinator garden, a food forest, and a raised herb-garden area with sun protection. Once the invasive carrotwood tree was removed, the south-side yard was opened to ample sunshine and prepped for a vegetable, herb, and edible-flower garden.

Charles introduced Holly to Zach, who oversees the backyard pilot evolution, and continues to provide support and inspiration for the POL

The RiA article, Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots, introduces the pilots; the Holly Elmore Images (HEI) Ei Rewilding Urban Landscapes Pilots album documents the pilots' progress in a series of photo galleries.

Soil & Water: the foundation of life
As the Unitarian Universalist Church Green Team Chair, Mary Anne invited Holly to speak at their November 2022 meeting. Zach joined Holly for the the Soil & Water: the foundation of life presentation and shared on POL including its environmental impact.

For an encore performance, Holly spoke solo at the ECO Democrats Manatee February meeting.

The RiA Magazine article, Soil & Water The Foundation of Life, recaps the presentation outline with more in-depth information; the PPT presentation is available for download at this link.

Table2Farms (T2F)
Within a year of each other, Bridgett and Holly moved to the Florida Central Gulf Coast, a mere hour from each other. Once reconnected, Bridgett invited Holly to join the T2F Team as the industry expert during the pre-funding stage. T2F is committed to scaling-up food waste-composting operations in small- to medium-sized cities across the nation.

T2F vision: to aggregate billions of dollars for compost infrastructure funds and establish hundreds of industrial composting facilities in cities across the United States.

Once T2F secures initial funding, Holly will spearhead a Scaling-Up Composting in Sarasota Pilot working with Sunshine Community Compost; the intention is to develop a replicable template for scaling a grassroots-composting system into an operation with a solid business model including ample capacity for growth.

The LG will support the pilot in various capacities.

Working Together
As showcased in this article, the LG members work closely together within a myriad of interfaces related to coastal-water quality. With tremendous synergies, the LG intends to create a research project that augments and scientifically substantiates an existing local endeavor. Potential funding sources include one of the local foundations focused on environmental concerns as well as a Land Economics Foundation grant.

The environmental Leadership Group continues to grow its membership and influence in the Sarasota coastal area. Stay tuned for updates on the progress and substantial impact.


Tax-deductible donations in any amount are greatly appreciated to support Ei's important work. 


About Elemental Impact:
Elemental Impact (Ei) is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded in 2010 as the home to the Zero Waste Zones, the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost. In June 2017, Ei announced the Era of Recycling Refinement was Mission Accomplished and entered the Era of Regeneration. Current focus areas include Nature PrevailsSoil Health | Regenerative Agriculture, and Water Use | Toxicity.

The Regeneration in ACTION Magazine articles, From Organic Certification to Regenerative Agriculture to Rewilding Landscapes: an evolution towards soil integrity and SOIL & WATER: the foundation of life, published to explain and substantiate the importance of Ei’s rewilding urban landscapes work within the Nature Prevails focus area.

The Holly Elmore Images Rewilding Urban Landscapes-album folder documents two active pilots: the Native-Plant Landscape Pilot and the Backyard Permaculture-Oriented Pilot.

To work with industry leaders to create best regenerative operating practices where the entire value-chain benefits, including corporate bottom lines, communities, and the environment. Through education and collaboration, establish best practices as standard practices.

Ei’s tagline – Regeneration in ACTION – is the foundation for Ei endeavors.

The following mantra is at the core of Ei work:

Ei is a creator, an incubator.
Ei determines what could be done that is not being done and gets it done.
Ei brings the possible out of impossible.
Ei identifies pioneers and creates heroes.

For additional information, contact Holly Elmore at 404-510-9336 |

About Lambda Alpha International:
Lambda Alpha International (LAI) is an honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

LAI operates through a network of chapters. A LAI Chapter provides a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its history and designated purposes.

In December 2013 Ei Founder Holly Elmore was inducted into membership and served on the LAI Atlanta Chapter Board until returning to Florida in 2021.  As the International Assistant Communications Director, Holly serves on the LAI Global Executive Committee.