The Big Calusa

Calusa Waterkeeper shines positive light on region’s top asset with a week-long celebration and clean-up of our waterways

Southwest Florida’s water is worth fighting for — and celebrating. So, leading non-profit clean water advocacy group, Calusa Waterkeeper, has created The Big Calusa, a family-friendly, recreational, educational and cultural week-long festival and clean-up to reconnect our community in a positive way with all we love about our waterways.

“All year long, we at Calusa Waterkeeper find ourselves talking about the catastrophic harm we have suffered due to red tide and blue-green algae: fish and marine life dying by the millions, citizens at higher risk of illness, significant economic damage and on and on,” Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani said. “Now it’s time to remind everyone why our water is so special.”

The Big Calusa began on Earth Day, Monday, April 22, with the Calusa Kayakers Clean-Up Kick-Off Party at Millennial Brewing Company in Fort Myers from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Millennial Brewing plans to unveil a brew specially crafted for the event called “The Big Calusa” on tap at various venues all week. The Calusa Kayakers Clean-Up Kick-Off Party featured musical entertainment, food trucks and sporting vendors which created a festival launch and sign up opportunity for kayak racers and clean-up crews.

That same day, The Big Calusa teamed up with Keep Lee County Beautiful to initiate Calusa Clean-up, a comprehensive week-long effort to clean local waterways throughout the region, partnering with kayak outfitters, civic associations, home-owners associations, service groups, churches and schools. The person who cleaned the most garbage out of waterways and posts photos to social media with the hashtag #calusacleanup were celebrated as clean-up champion at the Big Calusa Awards.

The brilliant history of Southwest Florida’s water took center stage on Wednesday, April 24 for the Calusa Culture Night, which brought together storytellers, historians, artists and musicians at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers. Speakers included Woody Hanson, Ralph Woodring, Seminole Tribe Member Brian Zepeda, Cindy Bear from the Randell Research Center, Amy Bennett Williams, Bill Hammond and “Calusa Waterkeeper” John Cassani. As a backdrop for the speakers, there was a Seminole dugout canoe on display along with water-themed works of art by prominent Naples-based painter, Paul Arsenault, and noted Sanibel artist, Myra Roberts. Music was provided by electric acoustic duo, Roots 2 Vine, who premiered a song written for the occasion called “The Big Calusa.”
Saturday, April 27, Calusa Waterkeeper held a full day of recreation called Big Calusa Day with ACA-sanctioned kayak and paddleboard races.  The public was also invited to participate in sailboat rides, fossil hunting, mermaid tales and “The Little Toot” Magic Tugboat for kids, along with fishing and boating safety workshops, master naturalist ecotours, along the North Shore Park in front of Three Fishermen Restaurant in North Fort Myers.

The week-long events culminated with the Big Calusa Awards Ceremony on Sunday, April 28, where Calusa clean-up champions, race-winners and local clean water heroes will be honored at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Newly appointed South Florida Water Management District Chairman and Sanibel favorite son, Chauncey Goss, gave the remarks at the awards ceremony.

“The Big Calusa was created to remind our community why it is important to protect and preserve our waterways,” said K.C. Schulberg, Executive Director of Calusa Waterkeeper and creator of The Big Calusa. “These precious natural resources, including our palm-lined beaches, exotic mangrove islands, unique ecosystems of marshes, tributaries, rivers and estuaries, not only provide boundless recreational opportunities, they serve as the underpinning of our economy, our livelihood and our enjoyment of SWFL. We need to cherish and preserve these resources for future generations.”

Big Calusa sponsors included “Golden Sawfish” sponsors: Pinchers Marina at Edison Ford and Severus Foundation; “Silver Manatee” sponsors: Manatee Eco & River Tours, and CONRIC PR & Marketing; “Roseate Spoonbill” sponsors, Millennial Brewing, Captains for Clean Water, Kayak DIY, Three Fishermen Restaurant, Edison Sailing Center, Pure Florida, Metro Blinds, Keep Lee County Beautiful, Jensen’s Cottages and Marina, and Sydney & Berne Davis Arts Center; “Blue Heron” Sponsors: Edison & Ford Winter Estates, GAEA Guides, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Lee County Parks & Recreation Conservation 20/20, LightHawk Environmental Flights, CCRC; and Official Hotel Sponsor: Best Western Waterfront Hotel.