Victory: Advocacy protects critical mangroves and endangered species habitat

April 13, 2023

Over the past 11 years, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida has worked tirelessly with our partner organization, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), to educate citizens and decision-makers about the sensitivity and importance of Eden Oak, where a development was proposed. Our efforts culminated in a hearing before the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) on April 5, 2023. The Commissioners – Kevin Ruane, Cecil Pendergrass, Ray Sandelli, Brain Hamman, and Mike Greenwell – unanimously denied the request.

Many citizens spoke about the importance of mangroves and wetlands in protecting the existing homes in Palm Acres and Shell Point from impacts from storms such as Hurricane Ian, as mangroves are the best line of defense from storm surge and flooding.  As the Conservancy has repeatedly stated, if we protect nature, nature will protect us. We – and SCCF’s attorney, Richard Grosso – reminded the Commissioners of their responsibility to protect citizens and nature in Lee County during the hearing, which was a long time coming since the application has been active in Lee County since 2016.

Eden Oak is a large parcel of land in western Lee County, near Sanibel Island and the Causeway, bordering the Caloosahatchee River and Gulf of Mexico. The proposed development would have destroyed nearly 40 acres of mangroves and wetlands in the coastal high-hazard area of Lee County. Eden Oak contains one of the few known pupping areas for the critically endangered smalltooth sawfish and supports other diverse wildlife including manatees, wading birds (such as the wood stork), and a variety of turtles, fish, and other aquatic life. 

Map showing Eden Oak area

If Eden Oak had been approved, the extensive impacts on mangrove wetlands, water quality, and critical wildlife habitat would have put more Lee County residents in harm’s way during the next storm. The project site is near the Sanibel Causeway, which had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Ian which demonstrates both the vulnerability of the area and the need for mangroves and wetlands to protect against storm systems.

We thank the Commissioners for their unanimous decision to protect the citizens of Lee County and our natural resources. We thank SCCF for their leadership in fighting the Eden Oak project. We thank you all for your support, which allows us to do this work of advocating to protect important natural resources in Southwest Florida.