CLEWISTON — Ramon Iglesias, general manager of the Martin Marina & Resort and a co-founder of Anglers for Lake Okeechobee, has gained a seat at the table as Florida undertakes an in-depth look at aquatic plant management.
That’s something his boss, resort owner Mary Ann Martin, has been clamoring for over the past several years, long complaining that the points of view of people who best know Lake O — fishing guides, airboaters, fishermen, hunters and other sportsmen like them — have been largely ignored. But Mr. Iglesias is encouraged, saying state agency officials have begun listening closely to them.
The newly formed Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force draws on statewide expertise, he said, while the task force is composed of members from the Central, Southwest and Southeast Florida counties draining into or surrounding the lake, also called the Lake Okeechobee Watershed. It covers the entire area from the headwaters of the Kissimmee River all the way to where the river drains into Lake O and farther south to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, down into the Everglades and Florida Bay. The task force comes under the authority of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and is chaired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ chief biologist at its Invasive Species Management Branch in Clewiston, Jessica M. “Skippy” Fair.
Mr. Iglesias announced in a post on his Facebook page Tuesday, Aug. 6, he was “looking forward to serving on this group and hope we can all help make a difference with FWC policies in plant management. Wish us luck.”
He had received and accepted an invitation to serve as one of the technical advisers from the FWC, whose letter to him said: “The FWC is in the process of ironing out logistics for our first kick-off meeting that will be held at the Orange County Agricultural Extension Service in Orlando on Sept. 20. We will provide additional details as the date gets closer.”
Within a couple of days, there were over 200 “likes” on his post, and the gratitude from among his friends and supporters was nearly unanimous.
Tony Summers posted, “That’s great, Ramon! #Beourvoice.”
David L. Jones: “A perfect choice for the job.”
Robert Hertzer: “I can’t think of a better person to be in this group. Thanks for all you do.”
Joey Callahan: “Wow, Ramon, that’s wonderful … Thanks for all you do for the continued protection of Lake Okeechobee. Nobody knows how much time and effort you put in to help save the lake.”
Corey Roberts called it a “small glimmer of hope,” Tammy Jackson-Moore of Glades Lives Matter thanked Mr. Iglesias “for your leadership and willingness to serve,” and Patty Thielen Register said, “Good man for the position!” Chad Van Slyke posted, “So relieved to have you in the fight for Florida’s waterways!”
Not just a Lake O perspective
For his part, Mr. Iglesias said he is excited to join the discussion. “I don’t know who’s all on this panel, but I’m looking forward to having our first meeting and getting our feet wet,” he stated. “At the end of the day, I want to work with them, not work against them. We have to find solutions for the plant management program.”
He said he would not contribute, however, from only the perspective of a person involved in the tourism industry around Lake O: “I want to be a voice for not only Lake Okeechobee but for all lakes in Florida. We will continue to push our message of, ‘Mechanical harvesting is a must! It should be the majority of the plant management!’ — and we’re not going to stop until we get to that point.”
Mr. Iglesias said he is adamant about the issue because of the spraying of chemical herbicides into Florida waters, which he believes might even be enhancing the algae bloom problem because of the elements and compounds they leave behind in the water. He and Ms. Martin have spoken up about the practice wherever they’ve had an opportunity, including before the full task force during its meeting in Clewiston last March.
He said he’ll be taking with him to that Sept. 20 meeting one prized conversation starter he keeps in his office — a set of Mason jars full of Lake O water and lakebottom muck taken on various recent dates. He uses them to show what happens to the water when the lake gets violently stirred as it did during Hurricane Irma; the result is not pretty.
Asked if Mary Ann Martin is happy Mr. Iglesias and their side in the debate have finally gained a voice at the table, he said, “Yes, yes, she’s ecstatic.”
About what will be expected of the TAG, he said: “At this point they’re telling us we’re going to meet four times a year. How productive that can be I don’t know, but I would expect that anybody on this panel is going to be as passionate about it as I am. And I don’t want to be part of a panel to pacify anybody. I want to be part of a panel to make changes.”