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Vicki Love, left, and Tracy Love Tippin formed Blue-Green Connections Inc. to promote the sustainable use of land and waters.

DUNEDIN — Two sisters have found a niche in working with others to promote and improve the area's waters and environment.

Vicki Love and sister Tracy Love Tippin are all smiles that their new organization, Blue-Green Connections Inc., formed in May, was able to help earn recognition for the west coast of Florida as a Mission Blue Hope Spot.

"Tracy and I have always been interested in conservation and nature," said Vicki, the president of the organization. "When we were growing up we went to the beach all the time. We went on vacations and into the woods, camping. We always have been very, very close to nature."

While they were out and about in downtown Dunedin months ago, they came across actor Ray Bouchard, who had an inspiration to get the Florida Gulf Coast declared as a Hope Spot, which is considered a special place that is critical to the health of the ocean.

Bouchard, born in Clearwater, has been connected to the sea his entire life, studying oceanography, working on yachts, receiving a U.S. Coast Guard Certified Ocean Operator license and being a competitive sailor.

Vicki's husband had recently retired and she had a part-time job.

"I had time, Tracy had time and we thought it (the designation) was a great idea and was in line with everything we had been interested in our whole lives," Vicki said.

Bouchard, Vicki and Tracy started the application process; it was the impetus for them to form the organization.

"We wanted to build on that — build on being able to use the Hope Spot designation as a means to bring people together for education ... and to just build up more caring and understanding about what our environment is, how special it is and how we all need to work to protect it," Vicki said.

On Aug. 23, Gulf Coast waters were officially recognized as a Hope Spot, spanning from Apalachicola Bay in the north to the Ten Thousand Islands in the south. It contains 91 different species that range from critically endangered to near-threatened.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, who grew up in Dunedin, has initiated a global effort through Mission Blue, an international organization, to shed light on Hope Spot ecosystems and ignite support to safeguard them in ways their communities find valuable.

Other plans for Blue-Green Connections, which has supporters as opposed to members, are being developed.

"We are working with a lot of other groups. Just on education types of things," Vicki said.

Blue-Green Connections Inc. recently received a $4,000 grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to work with University of Tampa students to develop education materials for their peers. The materials may be displayed by the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, she said.

The organization also is sponsoring a Hands Across the Sand project in May on Honeymoon Island. The event is for people to stand in solidarity for support for renewable energy, and a decrease in fossil fuel usage, among other environmental concerns. The organization is encouraging people to arrive by foot, by bicycle or Jolly Trolley.

Other projects include working with the city of Dunedin on sustainability plans and introducing the concept of Beacon Cities.

"I think this could be a really effective tool to not only spread the word about this but actually really get some actionable goals from municipalities and communities all up and down the coast," said Tracy, the organization's event coordinator. "So what we would like to do is establish a set of criteria that communities can meet and that would qualify them to become Beacon cities. It can be at multi-levels."

Blue-Green plans to give an award to the city of Dunedin for meeting the first-level criteria. Tracy noted that the city is implementing sustainability plans and has a coordinator who oversees such programs.

"I think it would be a boost for each community to promote ecotourism to say that 'We are a Beacon city. Come visit us, see our waters, see what we are doing to protect it,'" Tracy said.

Also in the works is Blue-Green's Hope for the Future Challenge, in which elementary, middle and high school students will create projects on how they can protect bodies of water. The deadline for the projects is April 30, and the students will be recognized.

Vicki has been a Dunedin resident for five years; Tracy since 1999. Tracy said living in Costa Rica for a couple of years left an impression on her.

"The people of Costa Rica live very sustainably. They are very in touch with nature, very connected to nature. They think about that more just in their day-to-day lives," she said. "I didn't realize how wasteful as a society we were until I went there."

The optimum for Blue-Green is for different organizations to work together so that more can be accomplished.

"I hope that we will be at a point that we are bringing together all these different organizations that are working separately to work more collaboratively, so there is not a lot of overlap, so we can get a lot more done," Tracy said. "I hope we raise awareness about the waters and the need to change some personal habits or make some changes on the community level to make sure our waters stay healthy."

To get involved contact info@bluegreenconnections.org.

Both sisters agreed that the city of Dunedin has been supportive of efforts to address environmental concerns.

"The city really does seem to be on board with that. Not just the elected officials — the staff," Vicki said. "I guess it makes sense. You are on the coast. It's almost like when I went to Denver. They are in the mountains. When you are close to the environment and it's a part of your everyday life, you want to protect it."