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SCCF Staff Take on Natural Resource Policy Roles

May 13, 2020

As SCCF awaits the appropriate time to post a job listing for a new Natural Resource Policy Director, several staff members will carry forth retiring Rae Ann Wessel’s work. By doing so, SCCF will continue to leverage research to provide sound scientific grounding in critical discussions on water quality issues, especially Everglades and Caloosahatchee restoration.

Research Scientist Rick Bartleson, Ph.D. will continue to be the Marine Lab’s lead scientist for collecting and interpreting the data published in the weekly Caloosahatchee Condition Report. The lab’s Research Associate Leah Reidenbach joins him in collecting and analyzing data as well as preparing the reports.

Bartleson monitors SCCF’s River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network RECON sensors for salinity and long-term salinity trends. He also collects water quality data, including chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, and turbidity to calculate light penetration for the Fort Myers, Shell Point, and Causeway RECON sites. Bartleson also samples and identifies algal blooms.

Reidenbach uses U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) databases to collect data on Lake Okeechobee levels, rainfall, and lake flows. She also collects reports from various agencies and monitors press releases from the USACE, with a focus on cyanobacteria, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge water quality, red tide status, and wildlife impacts.

Together, they interpret the data, along with a group of west coast stakeholders from J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the City of Sanibel, Lee County, and the City of Cape Coral to determine the recommended flows from the lake at S-79 to maintain a salinity envelope for tape grass and oysters in the upper and lower estuaries in the Caloosahatchee River. 

Thanks to her experience with water quality science and science communication, Reidenbach will also pick up some policy work in advocating for local water quality issues and Everglades issues.

The remaining policy and advocacy side of Wessel’s legacy work will be overseen by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, who has a deep history of policy work on levels ranging from local to international. With a Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Sciences from Louisiana State University, Orgera worked on the Ending Illegal Fishing Project and Global Shark Conservation teams with The Pew Charitable Trusts before coming to SCCF. He traveled extensively to institute meaningful conservation measures in African and Latin American nations, as well as within various United Nations conventions, most notably the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. He also worked as a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in the U.S. Senate.

He will work closely with Holly Schwartz, who has served as Wessel’s assistant for the past three years.

Schwartz, who has a master’s in public administration from Florida State University, served as assistant county manager at Lee County for 11 years of a 21-year county career. In her final year, she served as the county’s environmental policy management director.

Since January 2017, she has worked as a policy assistant for Wessel. Specifically, during the transition period following Wessel’s retirement, she will work on legislative and growth management issues including Eden Oak, Dark Skies and M-CORES Toll Roads. 

Due to social distancing requirements at this time, SCCF will not be having an event celebrating Wessel on her retirement until a future date.


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