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Rob Moher, CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, fights for the preservation of natural barriers in SWFL


Just as we harden our homes against hurricanes, we must harden our shores. As? One man has spent two decades fighting to protect the natural barriers that help protect Southwest Florida’s coasts from hurricanes.

Rookery Bay in Collier County is one of the crown jewels of Florida’s protected regions. While not immune to the effects of Hurricane Ian’s wrath, it is remarkably intact compared to other coastal areas. Why doesn’t it look like these other devastated areas even though it survived a storm surge of over 8 feet?

“Mangroves help prevent further storm surges, right, so they take the brunt of the wave action in the storm surge,” said Rob Moher, CEO of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

If mangroves existed along Fort Myers Beach, what would this area look like?

“If you’re attacking a near Category 5 storm head-on, there’s very little you can do to stop it. However, the research and the images I’ve seen in pictures show that the areas with more mangroves and natural dune systems and conservation did better than those that didn’t,” Moher said.

Bayview Park in southern Naples is a perfect example of how man and nature can work together. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida fought to protect around 50 acres of mangroves there. However, Collier County could still allow developers to build a marina, which was largely protected during the hurricane.

While Moher is currently the one fighting to save the mangroves, that mission began 60 years ago with the Conservancy of SWFL when a group of local people banded together to fight what they dubbed the “Road to Nowhere.”

“They were against a road being built from Naples to Marco Island,” Moher said.

The waters of Rookery Bay feature kayakers and wildlife that are unlikely to be seen in other parts of Southwest Florida according to Ian.

“These are colonies,” Moher said. “These are places where thousands of birds return to these islands at sunset.”

The mangroves protected bird and fish habitats and kept our ecotourism and fishing industry alive. The conservancy also took in animals from CROW on Sanibel after the storm as their building was damaged.

“Many native animals are also affected by storms,” ​​Moher said. “We’re seeing the local community bringing in injured animals less than 12 hours, 20 hours after the storm.”

And after the storm, Moher helped raise $70,000 for the Marco Island YMCA in minutes. The past month is just a snapshot of how over the past 20 years he has been an integral part of the Conservancy and preserved our natural beauty. It’s one of the reasons Gulfshore Life named him its 2022 Man of the Year.

But Moher is humble about such recognition.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about what I might represent as CEO of the Conservancy, and perhaps this Conservancy’s mission has never been more important,” Moher said. “When I think about the storm, I think about the virtues of Southwest Florida. I think we have to keep every hectare of mangrove we have and then we have to restore the damaged ones.”

If you would like to read more about Rob Moher or the other Men and Women of the Year, visit Gulfshore Life’s website.

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