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Islands' Hands Along The Water raises awareness on water quality

August 17, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Hundreds of people - family, friends, strangers - recently took to the Sanibel Causeway Islands to lock hands and stand together united in drawing attention to ongoing water quality problems.

The Hands Along The Water event took place on Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. on Island B, organized in unison with similar events across the state. Hosted by local resident Kelly Francis, the island event aimed to do the same as the others - raise awareness about the impact the Lake Okeechobee releases are having.

"A bunch of us just got fed up with what we were seeing," she said, adding that a few people started planning events. "When I saw Sanibel was not a participating location, I volunteered to organize one."

Article Photos

Alissa and Daniel Priestley and their children, 9-year-old Miles and 7-year-old Levi, take part in the Hands Along The Water event on Aug. 12 on the Sanibel Causeway Islands.

Born and raised in Fort Myers, Francis explained that she works on the island.

"It hits a little close to home," she said of the dead marine animals and toxic waters.

Francis explained that the mission for every event was to bring communities together and unite them in solidarity, putting differences aside to come together for one cause - defending water and wildlife.

She estimated that about 400 people turned out for the island event.

"To see so many people so eager to come and show their support, it was almost overwhelming," Francis said. "It was very humbling."

A family-friendly event, participants of all ages took part.

"It was great to see so many people come out, young and old," she said, adding that participants were encouraged to wear blue or aqua. "Everybody wore their colors - to symbolize our clean water."

While most appeared to be from the islands, some traveled from as far away as Punta Gorda.

"They felt strongly about coming out to show their support," Francis said of one family. "People come to our state from all over the world."

As part of the event, participants locked hands for 15 minutes to show a united front.

"Everybody was just kind to one another," she said. "We all held hands - some people talked about how they felt about it (water quality problems)."

Daniel and Alissa Priestley took part with their children, Miles, 9, and Levi, 7.

"I thought it was such a great event," Alissa Priestley said. "Something to do with the children and see people coming together to show we care about our environment."

Priestley noted that it is time to heal the fragile ecosystems, of which humans are a crucial part and reliant upon for our well-being.

"Such a positive movement," she said. "Worthy of our time, effort and energy."

Local dignitaries participated, including City Councilman Jason Maughan and his family.

"This event was particularly fun because Sanibel Island families had an unaffiliated rally scheduled for Saturday," he said, adding that he and another had created it. "But then we merged our family events into the Hands Along The Water event, which made for even greater turn out in support of Sanibel's call for action and demanding improvement (for) local water quality."

And the need for improvement was clear at the event.

Francis estimated that there were about five or six dead fish every 20 feet.

"There was deceased marine life," she said, noting that cleanup crews have done an amazing job, but that may not be a good thing. "It almost gives the illusion that the water's safe to go in, but it's not."

Some of the participants reported having respiratory problems.

"Because of the issues that they were having on the island, they had to leave," Francis said.

She expressed appreciation for and gratitude to all of those who took part.

"I thank everybody who came out," Francis said. "We couldn't have done it without them."

The push, however, will not end with the recent statewide events.

"We do have plans in the works," she said. "We're discussing our next moves."

For more information or to stay up-to-date on upcoming events, visit the Hands Along The Water website at or the Facebook page "Hands Along The Water."



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