MINI / Feature

The Shotwell family continues a legacy of environmental conservation in Naples

The Shotwells have been at the center of local conservation efforts since the 1960s. Now, the youngest generation continues the tradition.

BY February 21, 2023
Shotwell Family at Naples Botanical Garden
Henley Shotwell’s parents, Lynne and Chip, have been instrumental in growing the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Now, Henley and his wife, Nelly, instill the importance of stewardship in their three children. (Photo by Anna Nguyen)

On a rainy Sunday morning in the summer of 2020, Henley Shotwell headed to Naples Bay with his two sons, Duke and Winston, to join local fishing captain Tony Fontana in his 23-foot Dorado bay boat. The guys had the water to themselves. It would have been a fine day for fishing, but this wasn’t a fishing trip.

Fort Myers-based nonprofit Captains for Clean Water, a key player in protecting Southwest Florida’s waterways over the last seven years, was helping regional captains who were out of work due to the pandemic. They had raised funds to pay fishing guides for a half-day’s charter to pick up garbage on the water. Tony signed up and invited Henley and his boys to join.

They collected more than 300 pounds of trash—Styrofoam takeout containers, plastic water bottles, broken fishing lines, busted lures, old buoys, and an orange traffic cone—from Naples Bay. The boys grinned the whole time, loving it. Shotwell knew he’d imparted a lesson that would last a lifetime. “When I was young, it was hard to make sense of something the old-timers would say. They’d tell me, ‘This isn’t my land. I’m just here taking care of it for a little bit.’” Now, Henley understands we’re not here very long, and we should try to make a difference while we can. “That’s a huge uphill battle these days, with water quality issues, red tide and the discharges out of Lake Okeechobee,” he adds.

Conservation runs in the Shotwell bloodline. Henley’s grandfather Elmer Wavering was instrumental in founding the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in the early 1960s. Over the years, Henley’s grandparents and parents, Lynne and Chip Shotwell, have supported local environmental causes, such as The Everglades Foundation and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Last year, the Conservancy gave Lynne and Chip the Eagle Award, the organization’s highest honor.

More recently, the family has gotten involved with Captains for Clean Water. At the November Restore Gala, Captains honored Henley and his wife, Nelly, for their advocacy to help veto Senate Bill 2508, a piece of legislature that threatened water quality and Everglades restoration efforts. “They reached out to their neighbors, held meetings, traveled to Tallahassee and engaged directly with policymakers,” Captains co-founder Daniel Andrews says. “Their efforts resulted in a massive groundswell of opposition to the bill from the Naples community.”

Nelly and Henley believe the greatest legacy is the ecologically focused mindset they’re instilling in their three children. They do this through memorable events, like the Naples Bay cleanup, and daily moments that teach them how to be environmental stewards. “We don’t really go to sit on the beach,” Nelly says. “When we’re on the water, we’re fishing, paddling—connecting the kids to the land and the wildlife.”

Henley, who owns Naples’ Surf & Turf Custom rod and archery shop, grew up surrounded by the outdoors with a family of fishermen and hunters. “Very few people come to conservation on their own. Typically, they need to be led toward it—either by somebody showing them the way or by hanging around like-minded people.”

All three Shotwell children, including daughter, Vera, recently volunteered in a beach cleanup on Marco Island. “They picked up every cigarette butt, every gross BAND-AID, every straw,” Nelly says. “They were shocked that people could just walk away and leave their trash.” Now, when the Shotwell kids spot trash in a parking lot, they make a point of picking it up. They’ve been learning about harmful nonnative species, too, and helped Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center with invasive species cleanups.

“I’m not trying to make them sound like angels,” Nelly says. (“They are not,” Henley chimes in, with a laugh.) “But we want doing the little things to help the environment to be a normal reaction for them,” Nelly says. “It doesn’t always have to be a big lecture about saving
the universe.”

The parents model the behavior in their day-to-day lives. Henley is known to turn his boat around to pick up trash floating in the water. “There are two kinds of people in this world: The kind who return the grocery cart to the corral and the kind who leave it in the middle of the damn parking lot,” he says. He wants his kids to be the kind who do the right thing—in the parking lot, on the water and everywhere.

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