Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a non-profit located in Tierra Verde, is teaming up with a grassroots group of concerned citizens in Gulfport, which means free vertical oyster gardens, or VOGs, will soon be installed on docks at the Municipal Marina and at private residences.
Each VOG encourages 50 to 100 juvenile oysters to attach where they can grow to adulthood. When each oyster matures to a maximum of about 70 to 80 millimeters in size, it can filter from one to five gallons of salt water per hour, said Eric Plage, an environmental specialist with TBW.
Oysters are filter feeders, he said. While filtering water for their food like algae, they also filter out contaminants such as storm drain runoff along with pesticides, fertilizers, nutrients and the algae that feed red tide blooms.
“They are incredibly hardy,” he said. “The filtering they do to clean the water doesn’t kill them or make them sick. They can actually improve water quality in an area.”
A $5,000 mini grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program is funding the local VOG project.
The workshop’s main goals are to raise community awareness about the environment among participants to make them “stewards of the bay” and to create about 1,000 VOGs that will help to contribute to cleaner water that borders Gulfport, said Plage.
From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 29, participants will gather in the non-profit’s air-conditioned community room at 3000 Pinellas Bayway South to learn how to string empty oyster shells that are pre-drilled by TBW volunteers onto sturdy marine rope in two styles. The recycled shells have been naturally processed so they are free of residue and odor, he said. “Oysters actually have a sensor that helps them to find shell to attach to. They very much like shell.”
The designs are so simple that installation permits are not needed.
Workshop participants will also be taught how to monitor the progress of their VOGS at the six- and 12-month points. The data collected by “citizen scientists” will be shared with TBW as part of their ongoing research.
Gulfport’s connection happened because resident Gecko Queen Jon Ziegler envisioned the benefits of the partnership. In addition to his volunteer ceremonial role to promote the city, Ziegler also works for TBW as their community room coordinator.
“I talked with Vice Mayor Paul Ray and asked him if he would be interested in this sort of project for the marina,” said Ziegler. “Ray then talked to Marina Director Denis Frain. They both were totally onboard.”
The VOGs that will be located in the marina will be mounted under the wooden T-docks and walkways so there will be no interference with vessels using the facility, said Frain.
“This program is wonderful because it’s beneficial to our marina and the environment,” said Ray.