The South Florida Water Management District governing board meets in the Florida Keys. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

“Here in Islamorada, we’re situated at the edge of Florida Bay,” said Kelly Cox, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, to a record crowd. “Hopefully, we’ll also be the beneficiary of Everglades restoration.”

Cox, a resident of Tavernier, was among many to welcome the South Florida Water Management District governing board (SFWMD) to the Keys and to show appreciation for their work to improve water quality locally.

Audubon Florida and Florida Bay Forever (FBF) hosted the welcoming reception at the FBF headquarters at Green Turtle Hammock on May 11. SFWMD was in town for its monthly governing board meeting, which took place in Key Largo the following day.

Vivian Morrison, a Florida Bay Forever board member and the acting executive director, noted that her organization was founded in 2016 as a result of massive sea grass losses, which led to fish kills. “This really impacted our Keys community and economy,” she said. “We formed Florida Bay Forever to unify the voice of Monroe County and to ensure the health of the bay continues to be a priority.” 

She paused before adding, “I am so excited now to say that Everglades restoration is happening. Hopefully our kids and grandkids will see a restored Florida Bay.”

Jerry Lorenz, state research director for Florida Audubon, thanked the water management district for its support over many years, which allows scientists like him to conduct cutting-edge, objective research on the Everglades and the many species that call it home. This research also affects our coastal economy here in the Keys. He closed with, “Now, we gotta focus on getting the water right.”

The governing board members introduced themselves to the local crowd and shared their favorite Keys memories. Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and Cheryl Meads are the two at-large board members representing Monroe County.

Meads described how she and her husband felt when they first moved to the Keys. She recalled, “We thought we’d stay a year; after three weeks, I said to my husband, ‘Why would we ever want to live anywhere else?’”

“We each have a reason to love the Keys,” said Benjamin Butler, the board member representing areas near Lake Okeechobee. “I didn’t understand until my service why my (dive)  mask was covered in seagrass. Now, I understand that it’s about getting more freshwater delivery, which is important to save Florida Bay.”

Broward representative Ron Bergeron Sr. ended with a commitment to the crowd, saying, “I want you to know that this board, our staff, will be moving water south. There are certain little barriers we are removing every day. … It’s all about quantity, quality, distribution and timing.”

Tiff Duong is a self-made mermaid who loves all things cheesy (romantic and dairy) and thrives in the 3 am hour. She believes in leaving it all on the field and has never met a (mis)adventure she didn't love.