Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Mangrove enforcement on Longboat stays with state authority

The town won’t be taking over mangrove protection duties as it requires more staff and resources than Longboat Key can allocate.

Trimming mangroves often requires a permit from Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Trimming mangroves often requires a permit from Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Courtesy photo
  • Longboat Key
  • News
  • Share

It’s possible for smaller municipalities to take over mangrove violation enforcement, but for the time being, it’s too tall a task for Longboat Key. 

Recent events on Anna Maria Island sparked conversation about mangrove enforcement from Longboat Key resident and Suncoast Waterkeeper Chairman Rusty Chinnis.

“I’m just trying to use everything that’s going on with mangroves just to kind of build a case for why these things are so important, why they should be protected, why they’re not being protected and what’s being done about it,” Chinnis said. “This whole case on Anna Maria is really spotlighting that.” 

A recent controversial mangrove trimming on Anna Maria Island reduced a stretch of mangroves from 116 feet to about 49 feet, according to reporting from the Bradenton Herald

Although recent investigations found the trimming was allowed under special permit, issues still arose in regard to how the mangroves were trimmed. Mangroves are vital components of many ecosystems, and serve as nursery grounds for important game fish, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Given mangroves' environmental importance, Chinnis has raised the issue of mangrove enforcement on Longboat in the past.

At a Nov. 13 Town Commission planning retreat, Chinnis said he believed the town should take a more prominent role in follow-through on violations. 

Currently, the FDEP handles all inspections and enforcement of potential mangrove trimming violations. But Chinnis feels that more hands on deck may be needed. 

“I think there’s good people in (the FDEP), and I think they really care,” Chinnis said at the commission retreat. “They are understaffed and they’re not being funded. We’ve been tracking a lot of mangrove violations through Suncoast Waterkeeper for over a year.”

Suncoast Waterkeeper is a grassroots environmental organization focused on protecting waterways. “Eyes on the Suncoast” is a program organized by Suncoast Waterkeeper where anyone who sees a potential violation — such as excessive mangrove trimming — can report the suspicion to Suncoast Waterkeeper, which then takes the matter to the FDEP.

The FDEP regulates trimming in accordance with the 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act, which affords mangroves certain protections. (The FDEP was unable to accommodate the Observer's request for an interview or further information before presstime.)

For example, all general permitted trimming must be completed by a professional mangrove trimmer. It’s also recommended that professional mangrove trimmers be used for individual exempt permits. 

General permits, the most common, state that mangroves, “may not be trimmed so that the overall height of any mangrove is reduced to less than 6 feet as measured from the substrate.”

Individual exempt permits are required for trimming beyond that. 

As of Nov. 29, there were five violations on Longboat Key that were in FDEP’s Oculus, an online, public database with files related to open violation cases. 

After Chinnis began the conversation at the commission retreat, he and Mayor Ken Schneier continued correspondence. One instance they discussed was a violation at Longboat Landings, which the two said had been ongoing. 

“I do think we need some more effort from the town standpoint … to try to get FDEP to pressure violators to fix what they’ve broken,” Schneier said at a Dec. 4 commission meeting. 

Schneier recommended to town staff to look into the matter further. 

What can the town actually do?

Chinnis previously proposed that the town could take over mangrove violation enforcement. The idea was talked about briefly, but ultimately it was ruled that it would be too large of an investment. 

According to Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons, there have been eight mangrove trimming violations on Longboat Key in the past three years. 

“It’s not something that we do see often here,” Parsons said. 

Sometimes, Parsons said citizens report the violations to the P&Z department, but the department then sends the violations directly to the FDEP. 

There are seven municipalities in Florida that have delegation over mangrove trimming violations, including Sarasota County, Pinellas County and the city of Sanibel. 

For now, Town Manager Howard Tipton agreed that it would be too large of a commitment for the town to handle. 

“That’s where it’s just that much tougher for a small jurisdiction,” Tipton said. “The FDEP has lawyers all set up for this, they have specialists, they have equipment. It would be a huge investment to try to replicate the level of service that FDEP can give.”

In order to take over delegation of authority, the town would have to invest a lot more money into staffing and resources such as a boat or means of transportation. That’s easier to do in a larger municipality with a natural resources department, according to Tipton. 

He did say, though, that the town could potentially help out more with educating the public more about the regulations. 

“And then when we do see violations, we need to be able to bring in FDEP and make sure they are aware of what we think is a violation and it’s theirs to follow up,” Tipton said. 

Moving forward, Parsons said his department will compile a quarterly report of all ongoing mangrove trimming violations on the island to present to the commission. 

This will serve two purposes: to keep commissioners and town staff informed, but also let FDEP be more aware the town is concerned with the violations. 

“We’ll try to create a stronger relationship with (the FDEP) so that we can be an asset to what they’re trying to achieve,” Tipton said.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

Latest News