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Fritz Albert (left); Audobon Society
SaveTheManatee.org
Jimmy Buffett (center) chairs an early meeting of the Save the Manatee Committee.

Confessions of a Parrothead: 'Sail On, Jimmy!'

Sept. 8, 2023
CLARK'S REMARKS: Our Florida-based sustainability writer remembers a musical hero who also used his platform to advocate for the environment.

I’ve been a Parrothead – a fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music and the lifestyle it evokes – for 50 years now. So, needless to say, I was both surprised and saddened by the news of his recent passing.

When I first heard him at a party in 1973, I was then still a student. It was his second album, White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. (His first album, Down to Earth, had been a total dud, selling just 324 copies!) Almost everyone else at the party was also listening to Buffett for the first time. But by the end of the night, we had played the record often enough to have learned many of the lyrics. It would be another nearly four years before I could finally hear him 'live', at the Santa Barbara Bowl, and I was thrilled that night to briefly meet and even speak with him.

Why am I writing about this here?

Well, Jimmy wasn’t just a wildly popular singer, prolific songwriter, accomplished musician, best-selling author, super successful businessman, pilot, surfer, diver, and sailor (although he was certainly all of those things). He was also a lifelong environmentalist and a true champion for protecting manatees.

That work started more than 40 years ago. According to its website, the Save the Manatee Club is “an award-winning national nonprofit 501(c)(3) and membership-based organization established in 1981 by renowned singer/songwriter, Jimmy Buffett, and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, when he was governor of Florida.”

Manatees are Florida’s official state marine mammal and both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission list them as a vulnerable species. More than 40% of manatee deaths, since record-keeping began in 1974, have been human-related, most of them due to collisions with boats or personal watercraft. Jimmy wanted to change that by raising awareness.

In 1986, he helped create the “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate, and he didn’t just lend his name to the cause and move on. In 1987, he went to Washington and appeared before Congress to lobby for the reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act, citing the manatee, specifically. And he was still very active with the Save the Manatee Club at the time of his death.

But his environmental activism wasn’t just limited to manatees. Over the years, some of the environmental causes and organizations to which he lent his name and support included Reef Relief and the Gulf Specimen Marine Labs. Jimmy also did many charity concerts to raise relief money after hurricanes.

Jimmy Buffett is survived by his wife, Jane (Slagsvol) Buffett; two daughters, Savanah Jane Buffett and Sarah Buffett; a son, Cameron; two grandsons; and two sisters, Lucy and Laurie Buffett.

As he sings in my wife’s favorite Buffett song (I played the Sport Coat album for her on our first date):

Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic... but I had a good life all the way.

Fair winds and following seas, Jimmy. Sail on!

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A contributor to HPAC Engineering since 2013 and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. He can be reached at [email protected].