Take action to reduce and remove nutrient pollution



The Sarasota region is well known for its alluring waters and the charismatic fish and wildlife they support. Special status has been conferred on many of its water bodies, including the Wild and Scenic Myakka River and the Sarasota Bay Estuarine System, designated an Outstanding Florida Water and an Estuary of National Significance. Sarasota County’s economy and reputation depends on its steadfast commitment to protect and restore its waters. Recreation, tourism, fishing, and real estate all depend on healthy waters. Tax revenues from these activities fund the infrastructure, roads, schools, parks, beaches, and social services that underpin the high quality of life that Sarasotans value and enjoy.

Protecting and restoring water quality in Sarasota County is one of the most important things we all can do to maintain and improve the quality of life for Sarasota families today and into the future.


As Sarasota County’s population grew from 12,440 in 1930 to 419,689 in 2018, natural landscapes gave way to residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial land uses — increasing the amount of nutrients flowing into waterways, while decreasing the capacity of the natural environment to remove them. Major sources of anthropogenic (human-generated) nitrogen in Sarasota County include: spills and releases from wastewater treatment plants and septic systems; pet waste; fertilizer; regional power plant emissions; and exhaust from vehicles and landscape machinery.

The dramatic increase in nutrient pollution has impacted water quality in fresh, brackish, and marine waters by fueling episodic nuisance and harmful algal blooms that foul waterways and kill fish and wildlife populations.

Excess nutrients can push a healthy Sarasota Bay full of seagrass and fish toward an ecosystem dominated by macroalgae and phytoplankton, a chronic state that could become a new normal. Nitrogen, in particular, feeds macroalgae and phytoplankton that cloud the water and block light essential for seagrass. Seagrass meadows transition to clumps of macroalgae, which in turn succumb to ongoing phytoplankton blooms. Despite historic gains overall, seagrass acreage in Sarasota’s southern bays has declined and macroalgae has increased along with nutrient levels. These conditions could lead to an Impaired Waters designation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in 2021.

Our community has a decades-long commitment to improving water quality, including pioneering efforts in fertilizer management, stormwater management, seagrass restoration, and watershed land conservation. Gulf Coast Community Foundation recognizes the collaborative successes of state, regional and local governments, agencies, and organizations and two National Estuary Programs to safeguard Sarasota County’s natural resources and water quality.

We believe that engaging new stakeholders and developing new strategic initiatives for public-private partnerships can play an important role in achieving our community’s vision for healthy waters.

With this Playbook, Gulf Coast launches an environmental initiative with a clear vision to improve water quality in Sarasota County. The Playbook integrates community-wide activities to develop public policy, community engagement/education, and applied science to effectively manage nutrient pollution in Sarasota County. While the Playbook uses the Sarasota County community as an illustrative and real-world example, proposed activities are intended to be adaptive, scalable, transferrable, and customizable to other regions and communities.


Activities to identify nutrient sources, implement solutions for reduction or removal, and sustain those gains are grouped by topic into 10 CHAPTERS organized around 3 GOALS that bring the vision into focus.

Playbook Goals

For scientists, educators, and policymakers looking for activities specific to their wheelhouse, the Playbook activities are identified with 3 APPROACHES.

✔  Inventory, estimate and/or quantify nutrient pollution sources and sinks.
✔  Quantify cost and effectiveness of solutions to reduce nutrient pollution.
✔  Establish ongoing coordination and cooperation on data gathering, monitoring, and technology transfer.

✔  Implement nutrient management policies that are science-based and cost effective.
✔  Improve coordination and uniformity of policy across jurisdictions.
✔  Strengthen public data reporting related to nutrient pollution sources and quantities.
✔  Improve and incentivize compliance with laws and regulations.
✔  Educate, engage, and incentivize homeowners, businesses, farmers, ranchers, and others to make choices (personally and collectively) that reduce nutrient pollution.
✔  Improve networks for communicating and transferring information and ideas on new technologies and practices to the community.



ONE: Review the Plays

Selecting from the menus and icons, choose a TOPIC, an APPROACH, or a GOAL that matches your skill set and interests to see a listing of recommended Activities. Review the Activities to become familiar with the challenges and solutions for nutrient management.

TWO: Get a Game Plan

To support first steps and foster implementation, each Activity provides relevant and helpful information to get started, including:

  • Importance – why does it need to be done, what is the imperative or mandate, what are the benefits?
  • Overview – what is the context (historical, regulatory), who are the key players, what is the status quo?
  • Approach – what are the specific recommendations and key steps for implementation?
  • Resources – what documents, websites, and organizations can be consulted?
  • Status – how far along is activity implementation: completed, in progress, in planning, no activity?
  • Performance measures – what are measurable outcomes?
  • Experts or Leads – who are persons or organizations to consult or take the lead?
  • Cost Estimate – what is the approximate level of funding required to complete the activity?
  • Related Activities – what are similar or interconnected activities within the Playbook to be considered?

THREE: Take the Field

Contact the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to get connected to community resources and discuss funding and giving opportunities to reduce and remove nutrient pollution – we can all find our niche to help achieve healthy waterways.


The Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways is a powerful curated collection of actionable nutrient management recommendations to reduce and remove nutrients from water bodies and sustain community-wide water quality improvements.

Our vision is that waterways in Sarasota County will meet their designated human uses for drinking, shellfish harvesting, or swimming and fishing, while sustaining healthy natural ecosystems that support natural processes and resilient native plant and animal communities.

The Playbook aims to focus, prioritize, and coordinate community activity and philanthropy by engaging community leaders from municipal, county and state governments and agencies, non-profit environmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, businesses, and homeowner associations.

The recommendations of the Playbook are meant to add value to existing programs and initiatives, not to replace, contradict, or preempt existing management plans. As a living document, the Playbook will be updated as new information becomes available and as progress is made.


Since the 2021 launch, our community has realized the vision of The Community Playbook for Healthy Waterways through action and advocacy. Our partners have activated the tools of the playbook through the implementation of activities and educational campaigns aimed at empowering our entire community to prioritize a future of health waterways. Local, state, and national media have taken a strong interest in the success and impact of the Playbook and we have seen a shift in attention and prioritization on ensuring a future of cleaner waters. While the Playbook uses the Sarasota County community as an illustrative and real-world example, the activities are intended to be adaptive, scalable, transferrable, and customizable to other regions and communities. #TransformTogether