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Gulf Guardian Award Winners 2004

Civic/Nonprofit Organization - 2nd Place

Project #: GG-04-09

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Company: Tampa Bay Watch, Inc., FL
Project Name: MacDill Air Force Base Oyster Reef Dome Project
Category: Civic/Nonprofit Organization
Project Type: Habitat

Tampa Bay Watch, in cooperation with MacDill Air Force Base and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, constructed an environmentally friendly shoreline restoration project designed to reduce erosion and promote new habitats in Tampa Bay, Florida. Members installed 910 marine friendly, concrete oyster domes; 28 tons of clean washed three-inch oyster shell, and 5,000 salt marsh grasses on the southeastern coast of Mac Dill AFB. This partnership with the military, federal wildlife agencies, local schools and the Tampa Bay Watch non-profit organization provided the framework to accomplish one of the most innovative shoreline stabilization and restoration projects in Florida

In the past 100 years, the Gulf of Mexico has suffered tremendous development pressures. Over the same time period, Tampa Bay has lost of more than 80 percent of subtidal seagrass beds and 44 percent of intertidal salt marsh and mangrove forests. During the 1940s and 50s Florida as a whole experienced massive dredging and filling activities before becoming aware of the ultimate loss to natural resources and recreational and commercial fisheries. It was common practice to dredge out large shorelines of the bay and pile the material behind seawalls to gain additional waterfront property for commercial, port, and residential development. In Boca Ciega Bay, a sub bay of Tampa Bay, the surface area of the bay has been reduced by 29 percent due to dredging and filling for residential development alone. The City of St. Petersburg has more than 288 miles of hardened shoreline, providing little or no habitat value back to Tampa Bay.

MacDill AFBs eastern shore is under great stress due to wave erosion. The loss of shoreline is caused by increasing ship traffic into Tampa Bay, and the storms that build across the large open water area. The coastal shoreline contains large black mangroves, palms, and 100-year-old oaks that are routinely lost. The severe erosion is also cutting into the MacDill AFB golf course, providing greater urgency to protect a major recreational facility. This shoreline is recognized as a Native American burial site and its archeological value should be preserved using natural techniques.

The total project area is approximately one milelong along the southeastern shoreline of the Base. The first pilot program was accomplished in the spring of 2004 along 800 feet of shallow water shoreline that is now protected with 910 Reef Balls and 28 tons of loose oyster shell. Reef Balls are half-round in shape and are made from marine friendly concrete, using a fiberglass mold manufactured by Reef Innovations, Inc., of Sarasota, Florida. Reef Balls are submerged at high tide and exposed during low tide. Reef Balls create habitat by encouraging oysters and other filter feeders to attach. Once established, the oyster communities support water quality benefits by filtering the water, provide habitat for small organisms, promote storm protection and create foraging and sanctuary areas for many species of fish and wildlife. Shell bags consisting of fossilized mined oyster shell inside of a plastic mesh bag are placed in two sections 100 feet in length.

Learning Gate Community Middle School students revegetated the first 800 feet of shoreline with 5,000 smooth cordgrass salt marsh plants. The salt marsh is grown at on-campus nurseries as a part of the Tampa Bay Watch Bay Grasses in Classes program. This hands-on learning experience provides an opportunity for Learning Gate students to culture salt marsh grass at their school and then transplants the mature planting units into bay restoration projects to further stabilize shoreline areas and promote coastal habitat restoration.

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