Proposed bill could kick wildlife out of aquatic preserve

Reporter: Haley Zarcone
Published: Updated:

A proposed bill is trying to develop a chunk of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. This peaceful preserve could soon be filled with hustle and bustle.

Neighbors don’t see how destroying a preserve feet from their homes is worth it. This area has seen a lot of development since Ian, with hotels and marinas right around the corner, and they wonder why there’s a need to clear another spot for more of the same.

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve is home to wildlife and backs up to homes along San Carlos Drive.

Homeowners like Joe Zombeck have had a front-row seat to construction here since Hurricane Ian but can’t imagine seeing construction start on this preserve.

“You’re gonna be dredging, and the eco-system is going to be damaged, and nothing positive, other than somebody’s going to have a new condo or something,” Zombeck said.

Senate Bill 1210 would “revise the boundaries” of this preserve. Not only would that give room for developers to move in, it would force wildlife out.

“Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve was the first one ever of Florida’s first aquatic preserve, established in the 1960s,” said Dr. James Douglas, professor of marine science in the water school at FGCU.

He considers it to be an important habitat for manatees, birds, seagrass and more.

The target of this preserve worries marine experts like Douglas.

“It might be open season on aquatic preserves,” Douglas said.

Zombeck said he is part of a community that co-exists with wildlife.

“There’s birds flying all around or pelicans. I mean, it’s just, it’s great. That’s why we moved here. We moved here for the beauty of the South Fort Myers area,” he said.

Living so close to wildlife is what homeowners like Zombeck chose. It’s a lifestyle Douglas said might go away if this bill passes.

“You can kayak in it or swim and fish in it, so people can coexist with the environment as it is now, but some of these changes would actually make it harder for everyday people to use the preserve,” he said.

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