A pair of Southwest Florida boat captains came together to create the nonprofit Captains for Clean Water and educate people about the environment.
“The vast, vast majority of our supporters are not captains; half of our supporters don’t even fish,” said Capt. Daniel Andrews. “But we have the business community that typically doesn’t want to talk about environmental issues, because they don’t want to impact their tourism. They’re our biggest supporters now.”
“Senate Bill 2508 is a good example of that power, of that movement and the engagement of the people,” said Capt. Chris Wittman.
With only a few hours’ notice, troops rallied from around the state to oppose the bill they feared would undo Everglades restoration.
“I personally canceled thousands of dollars worth of charters to be here,” Wittman said. “I would say in the room behind me, we have over $40,000 worth of income that was canceled to be here today.”
“We had about 50,000 people reach out to their elected officials during that time… that’s more captains than we have in the state times five,” Andrews said.
How did two men born and raised in Southwest Florida go from fishing guides to stewards of environmental activism, liasions of the waterways and Gulfshore Life’s men of the year? Like many, their adult passions started as childhood interests.
“Both of us, as kids, didn’t really care a whole lot about anything else besides being outdoors and fishing, and hunting and hiking, and whatever we could do just not have to be inside,” Andrews said. “Even if our kids don’t have any interest in fishing or being outdoors, you at least want them to have the opportunity to make that choice themselves, not watch these places [be] destroyed.”
As fishermen and fishing guides, Andrews and Wittman both had front-row seats to the blue-green algae water crisis in 2016.
“We felt the impact of, you know, discharges’ poor management and the symptoms that come along with that,” Wittman said.
In February of 2016, Andrews, Wittman and four other captains penned a petition to the mayor of Fort Myers, and Captains for Clean Water was born.
“The next morning, we wake up, and there’s like 300 people that were like, you know, ‘I’m a local guide, add me to the list,'” Wittman said.
“If people understood the science behind it, and the policy solutions to make it happen, then you actually have a chance at fighting the fight and saving the place,” Andrews said.
Since then, their goals, reach and impact have only grown.
“I think, to see the rise of people holding water quality as the highest standard of what is important to our community, even times outside of crisis, is the biggest measure of the success of organization,” Wittman said.
What do the next six years look like? Continuing the Everglades Restoration Project.
“It’s about maintaining that momentum or even growing that momentum, and we want to see Everglades restoration completed, all 68 projects; we want to see our water specs, and at that point, that’s when we’ll look to what is the next fight.”