A new series here at Flylords, “Behind the Cause”, is sponsored by Costa Sunglasses and will look into some of their collaborative efforts with key conservation organizations. When it comes to industry support for conservation, few match Costa’s dedication to ensuring our waters, fisheries, and habitats are healthy today and long into the future. That’s why so many of us here at Flylords are huge proponents of Costa–oh did we mention they make a killer pair of sunglasses too!

This first installment will look into the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and how Costa supports BTT’s mission “to conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats through research, stewardship, education and advocacy.” Follow along to learn more about this collaboration and stay tuned for future installments of Behind the Cause!

Flylords: Hey everyone, I’d like to Introduce you to Joe Gugino, Costa’s Conservation and Community Partnerships Manager. Joe, thanks for taking a minute to sit down for a new interview series of ours, Behind the Cause! For the first installment, let’s talk about the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Costa has worked with BTT for years now. Tell us about some of the early days and the general idea behind this relationship. 

Joe: Thanks for the time! Honestly, conservation has always been a part of who we are at Costa, it’s in our DNA and tied to everything we do as a brand. We were founded nearly 40 years ago by anglers who relied on healthy fisheries for what they (and we all) love most – fishing. Part of making sure we protect our fisheries and waterways is by supporting mission-aligned organizations, like BTT, that help drive awareness of critical issues affecting our waters. Costa is one of the longest corporate sponsors of BTT and the crucial work they do to conserve and understand tarpon, bonefish and permit fisheries. 

In the beginning, Costa started working with BTT to sponsor the science and find solutions to real problems we were seeing with these species, but the success of that partnership has continued to evolve into larger projects, mostly through grassroots efforts and community participation. In 2011, we got behind what is now ‘Project Permit,’ and almost 12 years later, it’s pretty incredible to look back and see all the progress and lasting impact we’ve been able to make to our permit fisheries because of it. 

BTT’s Florida Keys Initiative Manager, Dr. Ross Boucek with Florida Keys Guide and Costa Pro, Brandon Cyr and his wife.

Flylords: I know you guys were recently down i​​n BTT’s neck of the woods for the organization’s 7th Science Symposium & Flats Expo. Costa played a big role in that. What was the general idea behind this event? 

Joe: That’s right. Thanks to Covid, this event had only been three years in the making, so our entire team was pumped to finally see this one come to fruition. Costa was honored to be the presenting sponsor of the event and to celebrate BTT’s 25th Anniversary. We know not only how important it is for us to understand the science and research behind what BTT is doing, but also to just be in person with people in the industry. Maybe other than actually being out on the water fishing, it doesn’t get much better than being in a room with like-minded people who are just as passionate about fishing as they are making sure those fisheries are around for generations to come. 

Flylords: What were some of the highlights for you?

Joe: Oh man, where to begin? It was definitely two days jam packed full of happenings for the Costa team. We had Costa booths and tents set up in the main lobby and outside the National PGA Resort pool giving away swag and letting attendees try on frames, and there’s no doubt Costa’s VIP lounge with Frigate Reserve Rum was also a happening place, especially around happy hour. 

Throughout the show, we had Kick Plastic water silos with reusable metal cups to help reduce the amount of plastic waste. And to call attention to the initiative, our ‘Twisting the Night Away’ tarpon sculpture, made entirely from plastic material collected out of the ocean (by UpSculpt Artist Cindy Pease Roe), was on display in the main lobby. 

The Legends Panel, full of, well, flats fishing legends!

Collectively I think most would agree, the panels were the biggest highlight for everyone, especially the Permit Panel and the Legends Panel, which were both full of Costa Pros, knowledge, and experience.

On Friday night, our Project Permit and Mighty Waters films were featured during the Film & Arts Festival. It was really special to have one of the most notable bonefishing guides in the world with us, Ansil Saunders, and his family. We worked on Mighty Waters for a couple years with him, so being able to watch Ansil watch his film from the audience was very memorable. Don’t think there were many dry eyes in that room, and we heard multiple accounts of people leaving that screening feeling inspired. 

Flylords: While bonefish and tarpon are obviously BTT’s namesake, the group has most certainly not forgotten the snobby gangster of the flats–the Permit. What is Project Permit (I can embed a trailer?) and how has Costa been involved?

Joe: There’s no doubt that the Florida Keys’ permit fishery is truly special and iconic, I think 33 of 36 fly caught world records are from there! I talked about this a little bit earlier, but in short, Project Permit is a conservation program, funded by Costa, with the help of Lower Keys Fishing Guides Association and March Merkin Permit Tournament, to protect the iconic permit fishery in the Florida Keys, and provide the data and research necessary for resource managers to better manage these fisheries. 

Our Project Permit film, A Pathway For Permit, does a great job showcasing the project, but happy to go into more detail on the backstory too.

Project Permit started in 2011. Anglers and guides were reporting a rapid decline in the permit fishery, so Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) created the Special Permit Zone (SPZ) with stricter permit regulations in Florida Keys and Biscayne Bay. The goal of Project Permit was to find out if that SPZ was large enough – did the permit remain in the Keys or were they migrating out of those waters, most likely to spawn? Relying on scientists and guides, the project started as a dart-tagging study. With more than 1,000 permit tagged, the results showed that only a couple of Keys’ permit were recaptured outside of the Keys. 

After that, the next step was to understand permit movements and habitat use within the Florida Keys. By tracking movements with acoustic tags from 2013-2019, scientists learned that nearly 70 percent of Lower Keys flats permit migrate to Western Dry Rocks (WDR) to spawn. Something that’s really interesting is that more than 30 percent of permit hooked during catch-and-release fishing at WDR were eaten by sharks before they could be landed. 

All of this is what led to FWC’s 2021 decision to create a spawning season no-fishing closure at WDR from April through July. Currently, we’re in the middle of another three-year study, that just launched this year, to continue monitoring behaviors and provide additional data to FWC. 

So, all that to say, there’s a lot to celebrate with this one. Really cool story of what can be accomplished for conservation when industry partners, guides, anglers, non profit organizations, and resource managers work together to protect our fisheries. 

Flylords: It’s always great to see a huge industry name like Costa getting so involved with these conservation efforts and directly supporting groups like BTT. Why does Costa put so much time and effort, and well money, into these causes? 

Joe: What it comes down to is honestly pretty simple…Costa continues to invest so heavily in conservation efforts, like those of BTT,  to guarantee that the waters and fisheries that we love so dearly, don’t become a tale of what was, but rather a thriving, healthy ecosystem for generations to come. 

Conservation is at the heart of Costa. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly encourage you to check out our first edition Protect Report, which essentially takes 38 years of our work as a brand and puts it into writing. It also gives us data to hold us accountable and help define where we go next.

Costa has always been driven by three goals: build the best sunglasses on the planet for those who live to be on the water, protect the waters we love, and inspire others to do the same. We’ve been leading the charge to protect our watery world for nearly four decades now, and it’s been really great to see so many other brands, guides, partners, and even consumers take note and get involved too. 

Captain Will Benson with a stud permit!

Flylords: On a personal note, Costa’s Kick Plastic and One Coast movements really speak to me and show just how connected all of us anglers are and the need to protect our waters and resources–regardless of where you live. It also represents just how influential and a force for positive change small actions can be when they’re replicated by the entire community. So, thanks to you Team Costa. Any parting thoughts? 

Joe: You know, it’s SO important, and I really think our industry has really started getting behind it in recent years. Regardless of where you live, your skill level, or the species you’re targeting, we can all agree that protecting our waterways and resources is vital to our work and play. Sure, Costa created #KickPlastic and #OneCoast movements, but it wouldn’t be possible without our tribe banding together. Just from the efforts of our Kick Plastic Guides alone, more than 3 million single use water bottles have been eliminated, which is insane to think about.

Photo by Austin Coit
Photo by Austin Coit

And it’s definitely worth calling attention to the way our industry responded to #OneCoast relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ian recently and the havoc it wreaked on SW Florida. We saw so many organizations, like Captains for Clean Water, brands, partners, pros, guides and consumers step up to help out in any way possible. From working recovery missions, to auctioning off flies and guided trips, to driving supplies down from states away, the response and way we came together truly as #OneCoast was remarkable. 

Thank you to the folks over at Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Joe, and the rest of the Costa team–keep up the great work, everyone! To learn more about Costa’s sustainability projects, click HERE.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Protects Essential Permit Spawning Habitat

Costa Sunglasses donates $50,000 to Captains for Clean Water for Hurricane Ian Disaster Relief Fund

Costa Behind the Guides: Brandon Cyr


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.