SMC Co-Founder Bob Graham Passes Away

A portrait of Florida Governor Bob Graham, circa 1979. Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida
A portrait of Florida Governor Bob Graham, circa 1979. Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida

By Patrick Rose, CPM, Aquatic Biologist, Executive Director

It is with profound sadness that we reflect on the life and legacy of former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham, a steadfast champion for environmental conservation and wildlife protection. Bob’s enduring commitment to these causes spanned five decades, marking an extraordinary journey that embodied the essence of a true hero and humanitarian.

A Florida native, Bob Graham’s legacy is intertwined with Florida’s rich biodiversity and environmental heritage. His tireless efforts in preserving our parks, wildlife, and communities garnered widespread acclaim. Notably, his invaluable contributions to manatee conservation stand as a testament to his staunch commitment to safeguarding our precious aquatic ecosystems, too.

Throughout his distinguished career, Senator Graham’s influence ranged across policy and legislation, where he spearheaded landmark measures for environmental conservation and wildlife protection. His advocacy efforts resulted in the passage of key initiatives that continue to safeguard Florida’s natural wonders and inspire conservation efforts globally. He launched the largest environmental protection program in Florida history, which brought thousands of environmentally important lands under state control and established the Save the Everglades program. Furthermore, his activism led to the establishment of November as “Manatee Awareness Month” in 1979—and every November since—a critical step in raising public consciousness about the plight of these endangered mammals. Under his leadership, sorely needed manatee protection zones and robust awareness campaigns were implemented, ushering in a new era of conservation for Florida’s highly endangered manatees.

Bob Graham’s legacy extends far beyond his political achievements. His collaboration with Jimmy Buffett, which took a leap forward in 1981 due to shared concerns about unchecked development in Florida, led to the formation of the Save the Manatee Committee. Having been appointed by Governor Graham as the Scientific Advisor to the committee, I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand Bob’s unwavering dedication to manatee advocacy and his deep understanding of the scientific foundation behind each and every step forward that would be necessary to prevent the manatees’ extinction in Florida. Together, along with many others, we laid the groundwork for what would later become the Save the Manatee Club, a testament to the enduring impact of intense, scientifically-based collaboration bolstered by strong grassroots support. Bob and Jimmy’s most recent joint op-ed, published in 2021, was powerful evidence of their enduring commitment to manatee conservation and the preservation of our aquatic ecosystems. Bob, Jimmy, and I had always believed that by saving manatees we could save our critically important aquatic ecosystems, especially our seagrass communities which are so vital to a myriad of other species. His co-founding of Save the Manatee Club is proof of his lifelong commitment to preserving our natural world.

Florida, Save the Manatee Club, and indeed our planet, are far richer for his firm dedication to environmental stewardship and conservation. In remembrance of Bob Graham’s remarkable contributions, let us continue to honor his legacy by safeguarding our environment for future generations.

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