By Neil Taylor
As a fishing guide, an outdoor writer and sometimes just as a citizen there are rare and unique reasons to feel good about something amid a lot of rigmarole and red tape. In most facets of life one can look around and see “agencies” and “organizations” that solicit money and promise to do this or that and we all know, that money is just consumed by the infrastructure of bureaucracy even with the best of intentions.
Another thing that is refreshing to see: Time tested results. Feeding the bull. Getting it done. Quietly, powerful.
One such agency that wins out over any I have ever known for what I categorize as “Getting dirty and getting it done” is a nonprofit organization, volunteer based: Tampa Bay Watch.
Founded 20 years ago by Peter Clark, this organization fixes what man hath wrecked. As anyone who understands what the situation is in coastal Florida, the biggest risk to the future of our aquatic life is habitat destruction. Let’s take a look at what Tampa Bay Watch does. The list, basically describes the reversal of that damage in their successful projects: Oyster reefs, oyster domes, seagrass planting. This is not only restoration it is also beauty enhancement and improvement of water quality thrown in there. Win, win, win.
Our Mission is Clear:
TTampa Bay Watch is dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay Estuary through scientific and educational programs
You can’t talk about this organization without noting the other activities: Shoreline clean-ups, derelict crab trap removal and storm drain markers (great for educating people about the obvious: ”This drain goes to THE BAY!”) I have participated in storm drain marking in neighborhoods where I have lived and the lessons are learned from these visible markers.
There are their actions and then there is also their facility and education. Their site on Cunningham Key, just past Tierra Verde and before the entrance to Fort Desoto is “headquarters” but also a great facility for the education of both youth and anyone else who wants to learn about the estuary that is Tampa Bay and how to do things to protect our future. The staff and programs that are offered, perfect for handling these programs, teaching in the buildings and taking the participants out on the water to see it for themselves.
My own involvement over the past ten years: Not as much as I would like but I stay involved the best I can. In 2012 I proposed a site for an oyster reef project: Just north of the seawall on Honeymoon Island. In what ended up being one of their largest projects to date: Nearly 100 tons of fossilized oyster and shell has been placed in permitted locations. Assisting an existing oyster line that will benefit from the added structure, the future of that fishery will be enhanced perpetually from this endeavor. This was their first large project in this part of Pinellas County and will be a delight to watch the positive impacts for decades to come.
How can you help? First off, there is a more work to be done on that particular project that is not covered by grant funds. TBW operates with volunteers and is funded by these grants, membership fees and private donations. If you can do it, donate to help finish the rest of this great project! In general, if you can’t make it out to volunteer, think about joining this organization as a member. If you can, do both! This is rewarding work, and don’t kid yourself, it is work. But as I have learned from the people I come from: Anything that is hard work is worth it. I still paddle out and look at the live oysters that exist from my first time holding a shovel at one of these events nearly a decade ago and smile at the fish that are living around that structure.
For those who are already involved, you have my gratitude. For those who have not yet been involved but would like to be, contact them or call me and we can talk about it some more. In pure praise: Peter Clark has been winning awards for what he has done. I don’t think he has been acknowledged enough. He not only created this and saw this through, he continues to manage a staff and keep coming up with new ways and ideas to continue restoring things that need the most help.
I heard that they have done the equivalent of two miles of new oyster reef with their projects. Jump up and find your ways to help make them get to ten. I will continue to do everything I can. And I know every time I do, I am making an investment in my future as a fishing guide.
See what they do: http://tampabaywatch.org/index.html
Make a donation: https://app.etapestry.com/hosted/TampaBayWatch/OnlineMembership.html