Restoration project at South Shore preserve nearly complete
RIVERVIEW - Tampa Bay Watch’s installation of oyster shell bars along the Schultz Nature Preserve shoreline is nearly complete. Weather permitting, it might even be finished this weekend. Volunteers have gathered at the Williams Park Boat Ramp since Thursday to shovel fossilized oyster shells into mesh bags before transporting and installing the bags along 2,090 feet of the preserve’s shoreline. Kevin Misiewicz, the environmental scientist for Tampa Bay Watch who is managing the installation, said there will be 1,850 linear feet — about 188 tons — of oyster shell bars when the project is complete. “We wanted to get about 30 tons of shells in the water this weekend, but it doesn’t look like the weather’s going to be cooperating,” said Misiewicz of the weekend’s rainy forecast the day before Thursday’s session.The man-made reefs use naturally fossilized oyster shells, which will provide a surface for other oysters to attach themselves and grow their own shells. Each oyster can cleanse up to 10 gallons of water per hour through filter feeding. The cleaner, clearer water results in a healthier habitat for a wide variety of aquatic life. The goal of the project is to restore lost habitat systems to Tampa Bay, prevent further erosion of the shoreline and improve water quality through natural biological filtration. Schultz Nature Preserve, located south of the Alafia River on the eastern side of Tampa Bay, is owned by Hillsborough County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The preserve — named after Fred Schultz, the National Audubon Society’s first Tampa Bay Warden — is a man-made peninsula created in the 1960s and houses numerous bird species, including white ibises and brown pelicans. Misiewicz said efforts to restore the entire preserve began about 10 years ago and included upland and saltmarsh plantings. The oyster restoration is the final phase under the current permits and is nearing completion, but the potential for more restoration down the line is a possibility, Misiewicz said. Volunteers from the Coastal Conservation Association have joined forces with community volunteers from Riverview and Ruskin this week to help Tampa Bay Watch reach the project’s finish line. Previous oyster bar installation sessions took place in December and February. “We’re at least hoping to get 100 to 200 feet closer this time,” Misiewicz said.