The fourth annual celebration, an informal, fun-filled event staged by Friends of Rookery Bay in and about the Environmental Learning Center on the approach to Marco Island attracted nearly 200 supporters on March 16.
It is a gala with a difference, designed to support the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America and home to 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals.
Prancing mascot Dottie Batfish (aka costumed FGCU student William Murnane) set the tone as partygoers were welcomed inside by David Gordley, event chairman, and offered signature Batfish Brew cocktails.
While snacking on hors d’oeuvres and inspecting masses of “wild” silent auction items displayed on both floors of the center, the crowd, a mix of members, guests intrigued with the cause and local politicos, including Kathleen Passidomo and Dudley Goodlette, was in constant motion.
Committee member Wayne Hasson — owner of the Aggressor fleet and donor of the live auction item of a one-week dive trip aboard Cayman Agressor IV — was a center of attraction as he introduced an infant batfish netted just that morning by marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey. Harvey was the honorary gala chairman and guest of honor.
Harvey himself, a Grand Cayman resident, was everywhere and open to chatting with all. As he explained, “I grew up ’midst nature and it was a great time for kids. After graduating from several schools in the U.K., I returned to Jamaica, received a doctorate from the University of the West Indies and sure enough, my hobby became my profession.”
The Guy Harvey Foundation is affiliated with Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and concentrates on both big fish and coral reef research. Eighty percent of proceeds go to research, 20 percent to education.
After enjoying a sunset from atop the bridge overlooking the al fresco dining area, a race was on to find assigned tables and hit the lineup of buffet stations featuring Olde Florida fare: seafood gumbo, wild boar “sundaes,” tempura chicken, sauteed shrimp skewers and carved eye of round prepared by Russell’s Clambakes caterers.
Under a slice of a real platinum moon and a suspended, lighted faux global moon, tables were clothed in tones of aqua centered by yellow, water lily-filled vases.
The Raiford Starke band backed spirited dancing and former Naples Mayor Bill Barnett, casual in black leather jacket, Harvey-autographed T-shirt and jeans, conducted the live auction plus a surprise addition of a Harvey painting entitled, “Sledge Hammer” depicting a tarpon and hammer head shark confrontation he had observed in the Boca Grande Pass and valued at $12,000.
Chairman and Iberia Bank executive David Gordley has announced net event proceeds to be $65,000. The figure includes ticket sales at $175 per person. Those who bought $250 patron tickets and event sponsors attended an advance patron party chaired by Bruce Robertson at Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club that featured a sunset cruise.
Proceeds specifically support youth science education, environmental research activities and community outreach programs provided through the 110,000-acre reserve.