In this episode, Brett travels to Pensacola for a conversation with the prolific Executive Director of the relatively new Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program – Matt Posner. They talk about growing up in Pensacola; the value of the education and experiences he gained on the way to his current role; the importance of fostering partnerships as the head of a small agency; and the exciting new programs his team is spearheading that could breathe new life into the region’s estuaries.
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Sea & Shoreline is a Florida-based aquatic restoration firm that is on a mission to restore Florida’s water bodies and to protect our coastline communities against severe storms. You can check out their projects at www.seaandshoreline.com
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Welcome to Water for Fighting, where we discuss the past, present, and future of water in Florida with the people who make it happen. I’m your host, Brett Seifers. This week’s discussion is brought to you by Sea and Shoreline and Resource Environmental Solutions. Sea and Shoreline is a Florida-based aquatic restoration firm that’s on a mission to restore Florida’s water bodies and to protect our coastline communities against severe storms. You can check out their projects at seainshoreline.com. and of course, RES. RES is a national leader in ecological and hydrological restoration, offering nature-based solutions with guaranteed performance through innovative delivery options. Discover more about their work and commitment to Florida and its environmental challenges by visiting www.res.us. I’m very happy to introduce this week’s guest, Matt Posner. I’ve described this podcast as being about the past, present, and future of water and the environment in Florida. And Matt most certainly represents, well, the latter of those two characteristics. Matt serves as the executive director of the Pensacola and Perdido Bay Estuary Program, an agency established to coordinate, restore, and research at a watershed scale. He’s one of the most prolific young environmental professionals in the state, and I’m so glad to be here in Pensacola with him today. Matt, thanks for being with me on Water for Fighting. So you’re a Pensacola native. Is your family native to the area as well? Actually no. So my parents met here in Pensacola back in the mid 1980s. My mom’s actually from a small town in Kansas, Seneca, Kansas. She moved down to Pensacola in the early 80s with a friend of hers. And then my dad is actually from the island of Curacao down in the lower Antilles, just off the coast of Venezuela. He had some family up in Pensacola as well. late seventies, early eighties. And so like I think most people in Pensacola met in the bar in the eighties and the rest is history. And here I am. And what brought them thinking of your mom first, how does, how does she and her friend get from Kansas and say, Hey, Florida’s where it’s at? Yeah. So as the story goes, they had a family friend that, uh, been on a trip to Florida and said, you know, you need to get down to the coast. There’s, there’s not a whole lot happening up here in Kansas. have a good summer and enjoy a week or two. And then another family friend said well you know you don’t need to look at Miami or Tampa. Go to the Gulf Coast, go to northwest Florida, go check out Pensacola. We just went there. It was fantastic and so they made the road trip down from Kansas to Florida. And what was interesting is if you know anything about the Pensacola area, they went to the sound side, Santa Rosa Sound, and they thought that was the Gulf they’ve ever seen and they just enamored by it and it wasn’t until they moved back a couple months later that they actually discovered the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of the beach. So it was really interesting and I think it really just highlights the reason so many people moved to this area is connection to their natural resources. Yeah was she in school at all the time? How old would she have been at that time? That’s a great question probably close as well to Florida. How’d that happen? Yeah a few thousand miles south of here. My dad initially went to move to the US so kind of the thing to do back in the 70s was if your family had the means you would either send your kids to the US or to Holland for further education and so my dad ended up in Howie in the Hills close to Daytona and ultimately he went over to Emory to get a degree in airframe mechanics. That ended up not working out, he didn’t pursue that, so he went to AMI, American Marine Institute, down in Daytona for outboard engine repair, started a business down there. His brother and his wife were in the Pensacola, Milton area already, so they ended up going into business together, and they were in business together for I think about 10 or 12 years before they split the business, and officially became POS and Marine 94 that by that point my parents had gotten together and have been in business for 30 yeah 30 years at this point. Tell me what you were like as a kid. Your parents are here they got married you’re living happily they’re living happily in Pensacola and then here comes Matt. What what was that like as a kid? Trouble. No I don’t think so at least that’s not how the stories go. You I’d say for the most part, I always had a great appreciation for going to the beach, being kind of immersed in our natural resources. That’s, you know, I grew up in a boating family, you know, that’s, that’s what supported my family all those years was the marine sales and service side of things. Unfortunately, we didn’t get on the waters as maybe everybody else, because as the story goes, the plumber always has the leaky pipes. Well, the, the mechanic always has the boat that’s broken down because he’s working on somebody else’s boat. But what was interesting is as a kid I had a great fear of open water and that comes from having not been a good swimmer as a kid and you know eventually kind of overcame that fear you know throughout teen years and into where I am today. It’s kind of funny to me now like my whole life restoring these waterways that I once had this great fear of and that fear comes from Not having that connection and not having that respect for those for those resources. How are you now in the water? I mean do you I mean when you open water? I mean now we’re not talking like you know in the bay But when you get out there and you can barely see the shore you can’t see the shore How are you? How are you these days? I’ll say that I should probably hit the gym a little bit more often or go for longer swims But yeah, I don’t I don’t have that I don’t have that fear, you know anymore a great immersion. when I’m out there. Yeah, well, I mean, you mentioned a little bit, you’re interested in it, but in terms of interest in the natural sciences, obviously, I mean, we’re gonna talk a lot about what you do for a living, but when you were a kid, was that the kind of thing that interested you or was it more that business side, the marine side of things? It probably wasn’t until high school where my interest in science, environmental science specifically came, markers that I can think back to throughout childhood and being in school. The first was Billy Johnson, my fifth grade teacher. Then it was Miss Hussey in eighth grade and then ultimately Mr. Bauer in high school here at Washington High School in Pensacola. You know, those three teachers, those educators are, I think, what continued to bring out that interest over And really where that came from was their great ability to get their students immersed in hands-on activities, get them out in the field. And so it was in high school, again here in Pensacola, Washington High School, that I was one of the first students of the Marine Science Academy. And the Marine Science Academy was geared towards getting students out in the field to sample water quality, analysis and then actually report out on that data in an annual symposium that the students put on. Wow. In addition to other research that was up to the student to pick and mine at the time was focused on actually red mangroves of all things. It was really that experience that drove my interest to pursue environmental science for my undergrad and then ultimately into a career. You know, initially I was thinking I’ll probably go into business management really having no idea what that actually meant. or where I was going to land with that. But actually being able to get an understanding of the issues that we see and then be able to come up with recommendations and implement those recommendations for how we can improve water quality was what drove me to go into this field. That’s funny. A little like a foreshadowing for our future endeavors. Talk about that time at West Florida. I mean, it sounds like it was natural progression. Was there a relationship at the time between that program university? Yeah, so there actually was. We worked quite a bit with Marine Science Academy and University of West Florida through their environmental science department and through their GIS staff to try to be able to really help propel the data that was collected by the students into something that is more readily accessible to the public and usable to resource managers as well. And it’s been great to see that program continue to evolve over the years and where I was going back and forth to do I go environmental science or do I go marine biology and I asked a few close colleagues and mentors at the time really you know what would be the better way to go and everybody stressed you know environmental science can be a very interdisciplinary field and there can be many opportunities to go with it that’s not any shot against the marine than having maybe pursued the biology route. And that’s what I ended up doing at West Florida. So I guess that kind of speaks to what you were doing in high school and then moving into college. You’re gonna help me make sense of your resume because it’s these overlapping things that aren’t typical of many. You were already working in the environmental field before you even graduated from UWF, right? Yeah, that’s right. So that was kind of an interesting time I was actually looking for an internship while I was probably midway through my undergrad program and reached out to Iskandee County at the time and said hey you know I’m interested in internship. Around that same time, we had the April 2014 flood event, which was very devastating locally. 24 inches of rain in 24 hours is the general message there. Completely overwhelmed much of our infrastructure, and as a result of that, Eskimo County brought on temporary staff to assist with enhanced water quality monitoring throughout. That was through a FEMA grant to really get a better understanding of the human health impacts associated with, this unprecedented amount of stormwater that we had entering our surface waters and, you know, impacts to recreation. And so I ended up really just well-timed to not go into an internship, but rather go into a temporary water quality technician position. And that got me engaged with the Schimbe County Water Quality Division staff, who’s a tremendous resource locally. And then ultimately, when that project sunsetted, you know, six months later, continued to pursue UWF and ended up coming back to Iscambia County to assist with some of their urban forestry work which was completely outside of my lane. Well tell me about that. Yeah, urban forestry. I’m not positive I’ve heard that term before. Yeah, so at the time the county had a grant. I don’t remember if it was through DEP or who it was, but really to complete a tree inventory of canopy right away, but our focus was initially on park resources. And the goal there was to get an understanding of the species, the condition of the urban forest of Escambia County and really to help build out a maintenance program so that way we have a great baseline and then if we know a tree is in good or fair or poor condition that there’s a plan in place to be able to remove that tree, you know, in the future to be able to sustain that canopy that’s so necessary for our urban environment. So it was a really unique experience. I had no background in whatsoever. But again, you have great mentors in life and in career specifically. And Jimmy Jarrett, the county arborist, took me under her wing and said, okay, this is what you need to do. Go out and do it. And then also, one of the lessons there was you’re getting paid to learn or you’re getting paid to learn from your mistakes as well. you know that flexibility to really absorb so much information. Nice. All right, let’s pause for a moment to talk about my friends at Sea and Shoreline. As we in Florida wonder what the future holds when we face the storm season ahead, Sea and Shoreline is working to protect our coastline communities against severe storms by installing a variety of green and gray infrastructure solutions to make our cities and counties more resilient. These solutions include seagrass restoration, mangroves, oyster break waters, and something called a WAD, which stands for Wave Attenuation Device. By installing their patented WADs, Sea and Shoreline can help protect our communities against sea level rise and storm surges by diffusing wave energy, stopping shoreline erosion, and even rebuilding shorelines through sand accretion. To learn more about how Sea and Shoreline can protect your community, visit www.seaandshoreline.com. Alright, let’s get back to the conversation. After that point, how long did that last? That was probably another year. Okay. And so moving forward a little bit, was the next one when you were the restore coordinator? Yes. And I think that’s when you and I met. Yeah, I think you’re right. And tell me a little bit about that because here’s what I remember. I remember this young man who was full of energy, full of optimism, was working his tail off to try to bring folks together to accomplish something. coordinator. Trying to stay out of trouble too and realize where he’s stepping as well, but I appreciate that. I ended up moving into the Restore coordinator role for Iskandar County back in 2016 or so and you know that was really at a time where the Restore Act funding that I’m sure we’ll talk about in greater detail. Well let me let me sorry to interrupt you. Sure. Can you tell people what Restore is first? I throw out these you know these terms as probably acronym at that I don’t remember. Can you talk about what that is first a little bit? Yeah, sure. So the Restore Act really results from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. So of course, we had the great tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon spill in April of 2010 that impacted the entire Gulf Coast, both environmentally and economically as well. And as a result of that, there were substantial penalties that were mandated to go back to the Gulf Coast. And in the case of The Restore Act, this is around 80% of those penalties, are directed back for restoration activities in the five Gulf states and to the federal agencies that are responsible for environmental resource management. And so Restore Act was passed by Congress and then ultimately approved by the President in 2012. By the time the restoration settlement was worked out in 2016, we finally started to of staff members from local, state, federal, to NGOs building up across the Gulf Coast to be able to manage these funds and implement the projects that come from them. And I was fortunate to be brought on with the Scandia County to help fill that role, initially as their Restore Coordinator, and then eventually move up into the Restore Program Manager role about a year later. Yeah, and you started, I think at that point, maybe it’s fair to describe it thusly, as you started to develop a muscle memory for working with. like these different stakeholders, different agencies, both governmental and non-governmental. Would you say that’s pretty fair? Yeah, what I really picked up quickly is that to advance the needs of the region quicker, we had to work together with everybody. And that’s on the agency side, local, state, federal, that’s working in partnership with the NGOs, you know, and down to the interested citizen and business community as well. Everybody has a role. And it became very clear at the time that as the restore process and these restoration projects really started to unfold, that it was going to be necessary to integrate in with what Water Management District was doing, what the priorities were of DEP, and start to be able to build that relationship, that network of relationships, so that way we could see some large-scale legacy projects that have been needed for decades. Yeah, yeah. How long did that last as the manager? Yeah, so I was there ultimately four and a half, four and a half, five years. Okay, and this is where I start to, you know, I’m going through your resume and we talked a little bit beforehand as well. We’re going to help me unwind this a little bit because somewhere in the middle there you finish a grad degree from the University of South Florida of all places, not in Pensacola. That’s right. and then you become the interim director of the Estuary Program. That’s right. Yeah. Talk me through a little bit of that timeline, just to kind of level set, and then I want you to talk, if you don’t mind, a little bit about, because you were involved at the very infancy of the creation of the Estuary Program over here. And so can you kind of piece a little bit that? I know that the degree is mixed in there, but I don’t want to breeze by it without you talking about the why. Sure. But tell me a little bit about that. Right. It was 2016, back when I was Restore Coordinator, then moving into Restore Program Manager with the county, that there was a discussion being had at the time of standing up a new Estuary program for the region. I had no idea what this was at the time, but there was a lot of work going on and a lot of people that had great foresight at the time when it became known what the penalties associated with Deepwater Horizon spill were going to be. the local government level, and I remember this distinctly, former commissioner and then eventually mayor of Pensacola, Grover Robinson, with Darryl Boudreaux, who worked with the Nature Conservancy and then Water Management District, and Dr. Dick Snyder, who worked with the University of West Florida, and there are many others, but those three stick out in my mind that said we have an opportunity to leave a legacy for this community, for these once in a generation resources, and we need to establish a locally driven science-based organization that can help guide where these resources go and ensure that we don’t have the same issue you know 15-20 years from now but we actually see the tangible improvements whether it’s water quality, oyster habitat, seagrass, community resilience materialized. And so it was modeled though after EPA’s National Estuary Program that’s been around for 30 years, 28 programs across There’s four in Florida and we work very extensively now with those organizations. But it was realizing the success that these 28 programs have had across the country for 30 years that everybody around here said, well, this is a great model, let’s do that. And it took a lot of convincing, I’d say, of state leadership at the time, of EPA representatives to be able to commit the resources necessary to establish such a program. to have a group that had been around for nearly 30 years, and it was known as the Bay Area Resource Council, or the BARC. The BARC really served as an ad hoc group to try to coordinate as best as possible restoration opportunities, monitoring, education and outreach. And it had its ebbs and flows like any organization like that. It had high peaks in the early 2000s, but it had fairly deep lows after the recession, much like many environmental organizations. staff nor financial resources that was necessary to be able to make the transformational need that was necessary. But what it already had was a great network of collaborators. And so that group in 2016 and then 2017 got together and when EPA put out a funding opportunity in 2017, the BARC technical advisory committee served as the authors of the proposal to establish the Pensacola and Predo Bayes Estuary Program. We were fortunate that our proposal ultimately was accepted and you know keep in mind at this time I was low man on the totem pole. I was just happy to be part of the team and happy to be a spoke in the wheel and you know assist where I could and trying to help envision this great opportunity for the community moving forward. So ultimately we’re successful like many things it takes a year to get the paperwork in place and to have a grant agreement but transitioned the then BARC into the S3A program and expanded that membership. So what I failed to mention before is that the BARC was made up of five local jurisdictions. We ended up expanding that to eight jurisdictions, excuse me, nine jurisdictions from Baldwin County and City of Orange Beach, Alabama in the west, to Ocaloosa County in the east and all the municipalities in between to have a great framework to be able to build, you know, to build out this plan. And so it was necessary for me to say that to get back to your original point, which was as that program started to form, part of the goal was to establish and hire dedicated staff and then eventually develop this blueprint for restoration and a sort of comprehensive conservation and management plan, the CCMP. I was kind of dubbed as the interim staff to help shepherd this program along and get it off the ground. Which had its doubts. I was one of You you managed to get some money to start up thanks to those local partners that you had I think you may have gotten a small grant a one-time grant elsewhere, and I’m thinking to myself Okay, what happens after year three and I’m talking less to you more to Darrell Woodrow at the time and even Paul Thorpe And Darrell’s like trust me. It’s gonna be it’s gonna be fine Tell me how tell me how it became fine at that point because you’re talking about transitioning from hey We invented a thing, but how do you how do you make how do you put wheels on it to run to? this point. I have no idea. I haven’t read the book yet. No, I mean, I honestly think about that quite a bit because I shared those feelings as you did, like, well, is this going to work? You know, how will this work? And eventually when I, you know, came in as interim director and then eventually was hired as full-time director, the message generally was, one, this has to work. There is no ability state level, whether that’s water management district, DEP, or whether that’s up to EPA and Congress that if we want additional investments to come to this region, we have to make this work. And that started, one, with a great network of partners who really did believe in this program and using that management conference model. And the management conference simply is that dining room table, basically, where everybody whether you’re some high up in the federal agency or whether you’re the small NGO group boots on the ground. Everybody has a seat to give direction for where this program goes and where we put resources forward and what our focus areas are gonna be. And then it was really bringing in a solid team and you know we’re so fortunate you know we’re a staff of six so we’re not we’re not huge we were able to bring in a great diverse staff that really was able to compliment one another well internally, but then just be able to dive into those, those relationships and form those relationships right out of the gate. And you also have to remember like basically the program and the team was built out right when COVID, you know, became an issue. And so it was our senior scientists and our outreach coordinator that started in March 2020 and July 2020 respectively. Wow. And you’re talking about a partnership based organization. All of a sudden you can’t meet with people in person when, you know, the world kind of stops for some period of time until we figure out what’s going on. And so we pivoted, we had to pivot, you know, immediately to go to virtual platforms and figure out how to make this work one, because we had a grant through EPA and restore counsel that says you are going to do this and two, knowing that it’s a need. know it’s a need for the region and so we had great participation and feedback being able to build out this plan this model for the Pensacola and Preto Bay watersheds that ultimately took you know about two years and I think the two connecting points there to make are you have to find that balance in the science and you know the community values and that’s what we’ve strived to do as the programs matured and as we’ve gotten our guiding blueprint developed for us. And one of the first things that we did was to reach out to the community and do a survey and say what do you value most about living here? And through and through what we heard is it’s the connection to our natural resources. It’s having fishable and swimmable waters for all. It is the aesthetic beauty that Pensacola or Purdue Bay or East Bay or wherever you fancy to enjoy the sunset. And you know we couple that with what the science and you know sometimes science says what people don’t necessarily want to hear right and it’s being able to take the emotion out of these things but also respecting the emotion people have for the community that they either grew up in or that they’ve adopted to make their home and I think that’s what’s really putting this on a great direction for success. What was your strategy for kind of getting to that point? Your local governments were already convinced value here, obviously. DEP came around, I came around, and others did and were ready to see you succeed. How did you get around that corner with some folks who were maybe closer to home that had their doubts? Yeah, I think you just have to grind it out. I mean, honestly, that’s what it takes is there’s always going to be folks that doubt the long-term success of a program, of a project, of a partnership, but what we’ve been able to do is, you know, everything that we said we were going to do, we’ve been able to do it, or we’re on course to be able to do it. And it’s also been the continued buy-in that we’ve had from those other, you know, local champions. Whether it’s somebody like Darrell B. Drowe, or whether it’s you when you were at Water Management District, or whether it’s Grover while he was mayor. The more people start to hear good things about a program succeeding, the more that they want to jump in on it. Because, oh, well if this local government over here is having a great partnership with them and getting additional resources, well then I’d like my organization to do that. to be a partner with them too and also help expand my separate sewer priorities or stormwater priorities and so it’s really been that demonstration of success and you know we have so much to owe to the state legislature you know like you mentioned before we had upfront funding in the amount of two million dollars from EPA on the one hand two million dollars is a lot of money on the other hand when you’re running an organization it’s not We were fortunate to build up a relationship with State Representative Alexandraty and State Senator Doug Broxson that believed in the program. They believed in the long-term mission of the program. They helped secure a state appropriation for us back in 2020, you know, again, the time where there was a lot of uncertainty. And we were able to develop a community grant program. We were able to do some other data gap filling for longer-term oyster restoration. success with the funds that had been entrusted to us by way of DEP. And you know, now we’re for appropriations in, fortunately, and we hope that will continue. But through that, we’re also able to build in that support from the local governments. We’re able to take that back to NOAA or EPA and get additional investments for the region from them. And now it has a snowball in effect that doesn’t seem to be stopping. Yeah. And how? I would say it’s like success, and you’ve got a lot of success at this point. I mean, very early on. And I’ll put the link to your website out there. I encourage people to go, it’s actually a really good website. A lot of them aren’t awesome. But yours is a good one. And it just goes project by project by project and grant by grant by grant. And you don’t get that if they think that you can’t get the work done, right? That you can’t work with the folks that you need to accomplish that. And I have a list. I can’t read the whole thing. to tell me a little bit though about a recent one because I think it’s part of a culmination of that idea of the success is a NOAA grant I think was just awarded in April. Over ten million dollars to do. Tell me about the oyster restoration program. Yeah it’s something you know we’re super excited about and got to give credit where credit’s due and we have focused so much on oysters because the Nature Conservancy originally invested in And that conversation started back after the wheel spill. It continued on for the last decade and ended up developing a comprehensive oyster fishery and habitat management plan for Pensacola Bay. And we all can wring our hands about the need for more planning documents and when are we gonna do restoration? But these activities have a tremendous value in actually being able to get not only financial resources to the table, personnel resources, but then policy changes where they’re necessary as well. And so that planning effort was spearheaded by the Nature Conservancy. We ended up becoming a partner with them as the Estuary Program got its legs under it and worked with a team of partners from across the region, whether it’s aquaculture, academia, to the local governments, and the development community as well to set specific strategies on recovering the once prolific oyster fishery we had in Pensacola Bay. there you actually had like five or six. I was reading the list you obviously you know first and foremost but you had Fish and Wildlife, DEP, the Conservancy obviously. I think there’s at least a few more in there. Yeah yeah I mean actually there were there were 20-25 active stakeholders that came to these bimonthly meetings to set out course on what the vision is for oyster restoration. That ended up you know fast forward a year and some change later that okay now what are we going to do with it? Well the Estuary Program took that on and has since adopted it into our management plan and is now running forward with our partners, too many to name, but of course the state agencies and TNC carrying helping carry that forward into large-scale oyster restoration for the Bay. And what we did when we rolled out our management plan back in October of 2022 was to set a very audacious goal of storing 1,500 acres of oyster habitat in the Pensacola Bay system. That’s a lot of oysters. Apparently, a football field is an acre. I don’t know if that’s true. That’s what I heard. But that’s 1,500 football fields worth of oysters. That’s a lot. As we’ve kind of worked with our partners to figure out how we do that, we’ve worked to fill a lot of data gaps, bottom-type mapping, water filtration models, and a lot of modeling that I don’t necessarily understand. far team does, that’s the important part. But what we’ve been able to do now is to take advantage of some of these infrastructure bill funds that have flowed through NOAA and most recently to their transformational habitat and resilience grant opportunity that yes, back in April 23, we were successful in securing nearly 11 million dollars through NOAA to do the full estuary scale design hundred acre target and then also implement the first 100 acres of oyster restoration as well. It’s going to be a transformational opportunity not only for the ecosystem services that are provided but to eventually see that re-establishment of the oyster fishery to the region. The goal as we move forward is to try to engage the local workforce as much as we can in the restoration. But unfortunate things I think about large scale restoration is many times large contractors from somewhere outside of the community has to come in and build these breakwaters or do dredging or whatever is required for a project. And that’s still necessary and that’s still going to be part of this project. But what we want to be able to do is to take a, give a nod to the historic fishing industry that’s been in Pensacola. build up that next generation as well. What’s the what’s the timeline on that one? It’s obviously you can’t plant 1,500. It’s already done. Is it? I wish. I was like, oh let’s go out right now. You really aren’t government at this point. I kid, I kid. What is the broad timeline? When do you think that you’re gonna have 1,500 football fields in the water? Right, so this grant through NOAA is on a four-year planning horizon and years we’re working to knock out the design and permitting work associated with it and the goal being to get that phase one hundred acres roundabout yeah in place in a four-year period the longer term goal of 1,500 acres we’ve set a 10-year target so we’re talking 2032 2033 when we expect to be able to tout 1,500 football fields of oysters out in Pensacola Bay. Nice. the future look like? We know what the present at this point. What have you got tucked under your sleeve that’s coming up? I mean that’s not enough. It is. It’s a lot. It’s not the only thing, right? I mean you know. Yeah, no, I kid about that. But there’s a ton already in the works and there’s a lot more to come. So another large-scale restoration effort we’ll kick off here later part of the year is design work associated with restoration of Carpenter’s Creek. And Carpenter’s Creek, Tahar and then ultimately into Pensacola Bay. It’s the sole tributary to Bayou Tahar number one, but it has a lot of historical importance to the Pensacola region, not only for Native Americans, but also for African Americans during the time of segregation. And so this is going to be a partnership with Iskandee County and the City of Pensacola that we’re really excited to work towards over the next year. And then additionally, we’re working to partner with local governments and except the sewer conversion and stormwater improvements. There’s no shortage of water quality challenges across the state, and unfortunately, Northwest Florida falls in that lane as well. And so, working in partnership with some of our academic partners, with private sector, with the utilities to say, hey, where can we expect the greatest bang for the buck, but also the greatest improvement in terms of water quality? and this is working in partnership with Senator Roxton’s office and our partners to the east over in Chocta Hatchie Bay and St. Andrews and St. Joe Bay as well, is that we can see a transformational change in the next decade with water quality as well. So that way we do maintain that fishery that we’re trying to bring back. Yeah. That we do maintain the ecotourism aspect that has supported and will continue to support this region. So that’s a big focus on the restoration side. We’re also putting a great emphasis on monitoring education outreach as well. You know, working in partnership with local state agencies and academia to build out a monitoring network. And then on the education outreach side, being able to partner with school groups and actually get out into the community because that’s an ongoing, it’s an ongoing campaign is you’ve always got new people moving in. You’ve always got kids that are coming up through school and we want to be able to plug in early. often to really develop these Bay ambassadors in every resident of the region. I want to take just a moment to talk about my friends at REZ. Florida is a treasure trove of natural wonders, but the cost of that treasure is our collective responsibility to restore and protect its ecological and water resources. That’s where my friends at REZ, the nation’s leader in ecological and hydrological restoration, are at their best. With an extensive Florida-based team, RES provides top-notch, nature-based solutions that uplift Florida’s ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. From water quality to hydrological restoration, wetland mitigation to coastal resilience, RES addresses the complex challenges facing our state with our unique operating model of taking full responsibility for their project’s performance over time. Working with both the public and private sectors, RES is tackling the issues affecting Florida’s water and land resources the most. Their long-term, cost-effective, and sustainable projects rehabilitate impaired ecosystems, helping them do the work nature intended. Cleansing water, sheltering wildlife, buffering storms, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Join REZ on their mission to restore and uplift Florida’s ecosystems. Visit www.rez.us to learn more about REZ and their commitment to creating a resilient future for Florida. All right, let’s get back to the conversation. Yeah, maybe that’s a good, that’s a good point to transition into the questions I asked pretty much every single person that’s a guest. You hit, uh, you hit, I think my last or second to last question. And so I’ll just, I’ll move it right on up to the top. What do you tell young people you were, you were a product of a pretty innovative program to get kids out and involved in environmental sciences and, and these places on the ground in the water. What would you tell young people that are, that are thinking about that now, whether or not they want to get into management or environmental science when they’re going to college. Yeah I mean I say don’t give up you know give it a shot and especially if you find yourself in a senior level in high school or maybe freshman in college and you’re still trying to find your way there are plenty of internship opportunities out there. Go apply see if you like that field and then if you do and you ultimately go and pursue an undergrad in that field. for Park Service or DEP or FWC or a private firm doing to consulting and get a feel for it before you start looking at graduate school. That’s how I ended up and I can’t imagine doing it a different way. That was so beneficial to me and a lot of it has to do with timing and luck, sure, but you really build out your relationships and your network at that point and that is as critical as the that you’ll gain through an academic setting. Yeah, I mean that’s what I want to, I’ll throw a little bit of that at you, in that regard, because I’m looking to have this piece of paper in front of me, and it has what seems like an endless number of organizations that you’ve got involved in, or co-chaired. The Chairman of the Gulf Consortium, Policies and Procedures Review Committee. Member of Gulf Front Watershed Management Planning Steering Committee. Panhandle Estuarine Restoration Team Steering Committee. But all, each of those have given you those opportunities. in terms of being able to network with other people that want to do the same thing or are doing the same thing that you want to do for a living, right? That’s absolutely right. There’s a lot of dedicated people out there that wants to see this type of work advanced and none of us can do it alone. And so you gotta find those friends, you gotta build those bridges and make those connections. And then ultimately, before too long, you’ve got a program that’s pulling in $12 million and you got a staff of six people. You don’t know how that happened, but it’s because there’s a network of people that want to see these things succeed And that’s what makes it makes it happen. Yeah, I know how it happened You’ve done you’ve done well You’ve got a bunch of years still ahead of you. You’re going to do tremendous things. I am certain. But for right now, what professional accomplishment at this point, only to this point, are you maybe the most proud of? It’s, you know, it’s hard to pick one, maybe two. It starts with the team we’ve been able to build, you know, here at the SRA program, I’m incredibly proud of the people that we have and the people that I’m sure we’ll have in the future. But it is that, you know, team. dynamic that makes it so that makes us so successful and it makes these types of projects move forward. In terms of tangible accomplishment, I’m incredibly grateful and excited to be able to get this large-scale oyster restoration underway. For a program that’s by the book five years old to be able to pull in $11 million, $12 million on this, that’s pretty impressive. Yeah, and you know from a larger perspective looking at the 40,000 foot view, What I’m most grateful for is, despite many challenges of getting the Estuary Program stood up, is that by and large we’ve succeeded and we continue to see this grow. That is my plan, is to continue to see it grow. I don’t do well saying, oh, this is good enough and move on from there. It’s okay, what’s the next thing? What’s the next thing in five years? And what’s the next thing in five years after that? We’re very much a growing region. We’ve got more people moving to this area every day. We’ve got more people moving to this state every day. That’s in the face of many water quality issues, climate change impacts, etc. But I very much believe specific to our area, and I’ll say this throughout the state as a whole, we have great opportunity to succeed where that we can be environmental stewards and we can also see our economy grow. And I think that’s the unique position of the Estuary Program is we can kind of be that middle ground. You know, we’re not birds and bunnies. but we’re also not the regulatory side of things either. We’re, hey, this is what’s good for quality of life, this is what’s good for the region. Let’s figure out a way to make that happen. And I think we’ve been able to demonstrate that and I think we’ll be able to continue doing that as well. Are you optimistic about the environment, the future of the environment in Florida? Yeah, you know, it’s a challenging world, no doubt. But I’ll say within the last couple of years, the future of Florida’s environment, and I’ll put an asterisk next to that, but right now the state legislature, the governor is investing more in environmental resource management than has ever been done before, and we support our friends down in the Everglades. We’ll see more of that come up here in northwest Florida, but you know I think it’s also very important to keep in mind what is realistic. We are dealing with the implications of climate change. We’ve got sea level rise impacting corners of the state. In our case, we’ve got issues with inland flooding because of the amount of rainfall that we get. We have to continue to look 20, 30, 40 years out to say, well, what are these regions going to look like and start planning for that now. And that’s the area where I’d say, you know, we need to be able to pick up the slack. And we’ve got one community, one Florida, you know, whatever you want to say, we want to continue to see. that flourish into the next generation. got to take the resources, the necessary resources that are currently being invested for restoration and couple that with the appropriate planning for the future as well. You’re probably gonna hear from some copyright attorneys from DEP about that one Florida. Is there a thing that like that keeps you up at night? I’ll say that I sleep well almost every night and I’m grateful for that but philosophically and long-term I’m concerned about the implications of change to the state of Florida and to the country as a whole. That’s not just water, that’s heat as well. You know, that’s going to be a continuing issue for our region. And we’re doing great work across the state. We, the collective we, doing great work across the state for restoration purposes. I think that the challenge remains how quickly we can get that work underway. All of these things from the time of appropriating funds to getting a grant agreement place doing design, doing permitting, doing restoration, doing monitoring to see if it’s successful before you do the other project takes a long time. And that is my biggest concern is coming up against the clock in terms of, well, when do we reach a tipping point where it makes it infeasible to restore water quality, to bring nutrients in line, for example? When do you have so much to bite off from a red tide bloom? that you don’t have the billion dollars that you can allocate to that one issue. It’s kind of those compounding effects that really we’ve got to put some greater emphasis in terms of how we can do these things bigger, better, faster. So for maybe there’s an agency somewhere out there that isn’t currently partnering with you, but if folks want to know more about what you and your mighty punching-move-their-weight team are doing and how they can get involved and help how they reach it. Yeah, you can go to our Estuary Program website, which is ppbep.org. We love acronyms around here. It’s got a great listing of our comprehensive management plan, which is a fantastic resource. That’s our blueprint for the next five, ten years. Six goals, 25 objectives, 51 actions, you know that we’re working in partnership with other jurisdictions on and that ranges from everything from habitat restoration. water quality, community resilience, and education outreach. But the other website I hope people would check out is stateofthebays.org. And this is a new site that we just launched within the last couple weeks, and it’s focused on our first ever State of the Bay report card. And this is really intended to serve as a community resource to get an understanding, a comprehensive understanding about how are we doing from an ecological sense, whether nutrient concentrations or seagrass extent, oyster extent, and we what we have done in this system is use basically a health care theme that we use throughout our program. You know we kind of relate human health to environmental health and so it’s a very digestible easy to understand resource the community can get an understanding of and we’ll be updating this every two years so as we see more of these restoration projects get underway the from the 2022 effort to say okay hopefully we’ve hit that benchmark and we’re that much closer to meeting our target for restoration. It’s a great resource of community. Awesome, awesome. Matt Posner, thanks for being on the show. Thanks so much Brett, this has been great. Well that’s it for this episode. Thanks for listening to Water for Fighting. This podcast has been brought to you by Rez and C&Shoreline. Don’t forget to check the episode notes to visit their websites and learn more about how they can help you. If you’re enjoying the show, please be sure to subscribe on whatever platform you use. And don’t forget to leave a five-star rating and review. You can follow the show on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, probably even Twitter at FLWaterpod. And you can reach me directly at FLWaterpod at gmail.com with your comments and suggestions for who and or what you’d like to know more about. of this podcast is by Lonely Fox Studios. Thanks to Carl Sworn for making the best of what he had to work with, and to Dave Barfield for the amazing graphics and technical assistance. A very special thank you goes out to Bo Spring from the Bo Spring Band for giving permission to use his music for the podcast. The song is called Doin’ Work for Free, and you should check out the band live or wherever great music is sold. Join me next time for another amazing conversation with someone who has helped shape water and environmental policy in the Sunshine State. Until then. your whiskey close, your water close.