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Calusa Waterkeeper names Codty Pierce its new leader

Codty Pierce.JPG
Calusa Waterkeeper
Special to WGCU
Codty Pierce, above, has been named the new top Calusa Waterkeeper by the group of the same name. A Lee County native and lifelong outdoorsman, Pierce grew up fishing in Southwest Florida and has spent several years observing the hydrology and environments of Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor and Estero Bay

Codty Pierce, a local charter boat captain with deep roots in Southwest Florida’s environment, is taking over the helm of the Calusa Waterkeeper nonprofit environmental group.

Pierce, a native of Lee County, is a lifelong outdoorsman who grew up fishing the local waters and observing the hydrology and environments of Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, and Estero Bay. He also has experience in wetlands restoration and native landscaping.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to share my knowledge and passion for Southwest Florida’s environment and history,” Pierce said. “It’s exciting to be able to give back to this place I love, and to be working to improve our environment, educate the public and strive for better environmental standards for our rich and biodiverse coastal community,"

He starts March 1.

The Calusa Waterkeeper organization is largely comprised of volunteers who, among similar environmental efforts, work to restore and maintain the health of the Caloosahatchee River, which flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico and its surrounding watershed.

“Our goal is to ensure that the Caloosahatchee River remains a healthy and vibrant natural resource for generations to come,” Cindy Swisher, administrative coordinator for Calusa Waterkeeper, said. “Our activities include water quality monitoring, environmental advocacy, community outreach and education.”

The river, in its natural state, did not flow from Lake Okeechobee and wasn’t nearly as straight as it is today.

The Army Corps of Engineers did both to the river in the 1930s to create the Okeechobee Waterway, the 154-mile-long channel that now allows boaters to have a nearly straight shot as they cut across the state from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean at Fort Myers and Stuart, respectively.

Okeechobee Waterway.JPG
Army Corps of Engineers
The Okeechobee Waterway now allows boaters to cut through Florida from Fort Myers to Stuart. The Army Corps of Engineers forever altered the Caloosahatchee River, which the Calusa Waterkeeper now work to restore and protect

One of the many reasons Calusa Waterkeeper is in existence is because the Army Corps now uses the Caloosahatchee River to dump water out of Lake Okeechobee — when levels get high — into the river which then releases water polluted with nutrients from decades of fertilizer-based farming around the lake.

The water releases create an un-natural rhythm. Too much or too little water in the river and its surrounding estuary at the wrong time of year flushes out tiny creatures and plants that count on low-flow times to survive. Too few releases allows for saltwater intrusion into freshwater habitats. And in between water releases or heavy rains, a stagnated river has produced massive outbreaks of blue-green algae.

As the Caloosahatchee Waterkeeper, Pierce will be the organization’s lead advocate, and will represent the group and its mission to protect the Caloosahatchee River and surround waterways.

“We are all thrilled to have Codty joining our team. His passion for our mission is obvious when you listen to him,” said Jim Watkins, Calusa’s president of the board of directors. “The energy he brings to our organization at this time is a crucial element in our continued progress.”

Calusa Waterkeeper is the name of the local organization, which is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance with 300 groups that work to protect and preserve water resources around the world.

Calusa Waterkeeper is also the name given to the person who runs the nonprofit, a role formerly held by John Cassani, who served as the first Caloosahatchee Waterkeeper for over six years and retired at the beginning of 2023. Cassani and Pierce go back years.

“Pierce's deep roots in the community, his long experience and knowledge about southwest Florida waters make him an excellent choice as a Waterkeeper,” Cassani said.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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