Nonprofit develops and installs oyster habitats along Tampa Bay shorelines for healthier watershed
Tierra Verde, FL (August X, 2022) – For nearly 30 years, Tampa Bay Watch, a local nonprofit, has worked to rebuild Tampa Bay’s oyster population as a way both to restore the health of its ecosystem and to protect the region’s shorelines from coastal erosion.
Prior to the 1940s, the Eastern Oyster was abundant in Tampa Bay, estimating more than 2,000 acres of oyster reefs found throughout the estuary. Over time and due to numerous human-related activities, this resulted in an 90% loss of oyster reefs in the area. Acknowledging this loss and recognizing the need for improvement, Tampa Bay Watch developed the Community Oyster Reef Enhancement (CORE) program in the early 2000s to help restore lost oyster habitat in Tampa Bay. Through CORE, Tampa Bay Watch has installed 15,000 oyster reef units and 2,500 tons of oyster shell to create more than two miles of oyster shell reef communities at over 30 sites in the Tampa Bay region of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Manatee Counties.
A single adult oyster can filter up to up to two gallons of water each hour, up to 50 gallons a day. Multiply that by tens or hundreds of thousands, and oysters become a powerful part of reversing decades of damage caused by pollution and habitat loss. Like coral reefs in tropical waters, oyster communities create important habitat for fish and other creatures that breed and mature in the waters of Tampa Bay, Florida’s largest open water estuary.
Founded in 1993 with a science-based mission and collaborating with community volunteers, Tampa Bay Watch’s decades of success are a model of how other communities can put the power of the oyster, Crassostrea virginica, to work cleaning up their own waters. Notably, New York launched its Billion Oyster Project in 2014 to encourage oysters to return to New York Harbor, a place where they thrived for thousands of years until pollution and other human activity decimated their populations.
Their longest-term restoration project is at MacDill Air Force Base (AFB) where the installation is so significant that it can be seen from Google Earth. This ongoing project currently consists of 9,700 Oyster Reef Balls and 450 tons of oyster shell reef. The partnership began in 2004 and has developed living shoreline techniques that endure huge vessel wakes from transport ships entering and leaving Port Tampa. MacDill AFB sought an innovative approach to address the extreme wave energies without hardening the shoreline, while providing ecological benefits back to Tampa Bay. The solution to this regional problem was to create a multi-layered ecosystem approach to trip waves offshore (oyster reef balls), stabilize the nearshore environment (oyster shell reefs) and reestablish shoreline habitats (coastal wetland communities) that will function as a natural transition of habitats. This innovative technique provides a cost effective alternative to shoreline hardening (seawalls or rip-rap) while promoting valuable habitat and water quality benefits back to the Tampa Bay estuary. In addition, this project benefits the Tampa Bay community by promoting environmental awareness and offering the community hands-on experience in habitat restoration. The MacDill project could not have been accomplished without the assistance of 2,830 volunteers throughout the years.
“Investing in oysters to restore an ecosystem is playing the long game,” says Richard Radigan, Tampa Bay Watch oyster biologist. “It can take decades of careful planning and diligent work to establish populations and make sure they’re successful and Tampa Bay Watch has had that success many times over the past 30 years.”
The Tampa Bay estuary is a unique estuarine environment that helps drive the local economy, provide habitat for important wildlife, and is a primary factor in the quality of life for the entire region. Over the years, Tampa Bay Watch has coordinated habitat restoration projects with more than 250,000 volunteers, students, and campers, and planted more than 1,000,000 salt marsh grasses to help restore 250 acres of coastal tidal ponds to Tampa Bay.
ABOUT TAMPA BAY WATCH
Founded in 1993, Tampa Bay Watch is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) stewardship program dedicated exclusively to the charitable and scientific purpose of protecting and restoring the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary, encompassing more than 400 square miles of open water and 2,300 square miles of highly- developed watershed. The mission of Tampa Bay Watch is to foster a healthy Tampa Bay watershed through community-driven restoration projects, education programs, and outreach initiatives.