Tampa Bay Watch installs oyster domes along Bayshore in Tampa listen12/07/10 Kate Bradshaw
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For many people, the mention of oysters invokes one two things: expensive jewelry and the edible molluskâ€™s supposed aphrodisiac properties. Perhaps lesser known is their ability to clean the water where they dwell. Today, a local environmental nonprofit is working to harness that power.
Itâ€™s a bitter-cold morning along Tampaâ€™s upscale Bayshore Boulevard. A handful of men in knee-high rubber waders stand in the low tide, guiding coffee-table-sized cement domes into the muck that lines the seawall. From a flatbed truck, a crane hoists the domes down to them four at a time. The domes are ridden with paper plate-sized holes. Chris Sutton, an environmental scientist with Tampa Bay Watch, says the domes are for attracting a certain population that once thrived here.
"Today we're installing concrete oyster domes, the original names are reef balls, we're putting them along the Bayshore Boulevard seawall to promote oyster growth and also provide habitat for many different species."
Sutton says shoreline development, mangrove removal and the building of seawalls have made this stretch of Tampa Bayâ€™s shoreline not very hospitable to the bivalve creatures. In fact, he says, oyster colonies are nonexistent along this stretch.
"Back in the day when they did a lot of the dredge and fill activities they removed a lot of that hard bottomed habitat, which they removed a lot of the oyster communities so we're basically putting that hard bottomed habitat back out there so oysters will eventually attach and eventually grow."
In addition to the Bayshore project, Tampa Bay Watch is installing these domes along the shoreline at Tampaâ€™s MacDill Air Force Base. So why the emphasis on growing oysters in particular?
"One oyster ... can filter up to 10 gallons of water per hour. They also provide a food source for many different species and a nice low tide like we have right now where the sediment's completely exposed you'll have a lot of wading and shore birds that walk this shoreline and forage in the areas around the oyster domes and around the oysters and also eat the some of the oysters."
Sutton adds that the domes will attract little sea creatures trying to hide from predators and cause sediment to accumulate along the seawall.
"A lot of the smaller species, the crustaceans and crabs and smaller fish can actually hide out from the larger fish inside these domes and eventually grow and mature. They also hopefully will build sediment up between the seawall and the domes which will eventually expand the life of the seawall and of course the city and the other citizens in the community will like that so they aren't spending a lot more money in taxpayer dollars on rebuilding the seawall. And of course it makes the fishing better and it makes our bay much cleaner."
Tampa Bay Watch staff and several volunteers gathered early in the morning despite the thermometer reading well south of fifty Fahrenheit. Kevin Klare lives on nearby Davis Islands, and works from home. He says the project is a not only a proximally convenient way to lend a hand, but itâ€™s also a way to help clean the bay.
"What brings me out today? I like to volunteer to this group just because of what they do for the environment. You got the whole oyster project thing, how it cleans up the water. We're never going to stop polluting it so we've got to do something to clean it up."
Using what they call marine-friendly concrete, Tampa Bay Watch staff and volunteers cast the most of the domes on the grounds of its Tierra Verde headquarters. Klare says he helped build them as well.
"I've done that a few times so I wanted to see the whole project come to fruition."
Ruskin resident Jim Igler has been volunteering at Tampa Bay Watch for six years. Today, heâ€™s helping out on the truck bed, fastening the domes to the crane so it can carry them over the seawall. He says heâ€™s seen an improvement in the bayâ€™s water quality since he moved here over two decades ago.
"It feels good for me to know that I'm giving back and I'm meeting good people in the process. And a real quick story. I moved here in 1987 from Kansas and the bay was brown because it was polluted. And I thought it was supposed to be that way because I'm used to the Red River and the Arkansas river and the reservoirs and it's cleaning up because of the work that's being done like this. It's just a super feeling."
Igler says the perception that no one cares whether Tampa Bay becomes brown and lifeless is a misconception; that there are people out there doing good, but theyâ€™re just not as visible.
Igler says there are many ways those who donâ€™t have the time to volunteer can help improve water quality in Tampa Bay by minding what they put on their lawns, among other things.
"We need to take care of the bay, don't pollute it. And there are so many ways not to do that. Storm water runoff, pollution, trash, nitrogen runoff, so many different things we're just defeating it. Because this is our environment, if we don't have this we don't have anything."
The crew continues its work in the water just of Bayshore Boulevard tomorrow.