Volunteers Create Vertical Oyster Gardens for Gulfport

Eric Plage, foreground in the red shirt, an environmental specialist with Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), provides training to about 83 volunteers who were at the non-profit in Tierra Verde on Saturday morning, June 29 so they could make about 1,150 vertical oyster gardens (VOGs) with thick marine rope and pre-drilled clamshells. Soon, the Gulfport Municipal Marina will be installing 500 VOGs.

A new effort is working to help clean the salt water that surrounds Gulfport and raise environmental awareness about the Tampa Bay estuary.

On the morning of Saturday, June 29, about a dozen Gulfport residents joined scores of other volunteers at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a non-profit located in Tierra Verde, to create vertical oyster gardens (VOGs).

TBW was recently awarded a $5,000 mini grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to create a year-long VOG monitoring program, said Environmental Specialist Erick Plage. 

That’s where Gulfport comes in.

As part of a grassroots effort led by Vice Mayor Paul Ray and Gecko Queen Jon Ziegler, 500 of the 1,150 free VOGs made during the workshop will be installed at the municipal marina. Ziegler also works for TBW.

Water quality measurements will be taken just before installation then also by trained citizen volunteers at the 6- and 12-month milestone points, said Plage.

The project’s goals are to train volunteers to be long-term “stewards of the bay” and to help clean the water, he said.

Each three-foot long VOG encourages from 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 Plage.

Oysters are filter feeders, he said. While filtering water for 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,” said Plage. “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.”

The data collected during the first year will be shared with TBW as part of their ongoing research. VOGs can last for several years and do not require special permitting.

In increments of from one to five, about 200 total VOGs, including eye-ring hardware, are also available for free for private citizens to pick up, adopt and install on their own saltwater docks. For more information, contact Plage at eplage@tampabaywatch.org. 

Betty Pearson of Gulfport was one of the 83 workshop volunteers and it was her first time visiting the environmental non-profit. She said she attended, “to help out and to help clean the water.” And, she wants to keep going. “I also want to get more involved with Tampa Bay Watch.”

Hundreds of finished vertical oyster gardens (VOGs) made from recycled shells are ready to be installed at the Gulfport Municipal Marina and at private saltwater docks in the Tampa Bay estuary area. The non-profit Tampa Bay Watch of Tierra Verde acquires the shells from area restaurants like Crabby Bill’s or Empire Oyster then cures and bleaches them for six months in the Florida sun in a remote outdoor area  near Ft. De Soto Park before they are used to create VOGs.

In the weeks leading up to the June 29 vertical oyster garden workshop, volunteers created holes in thousands of recycled oyster shells with drill presses. The loose shells filled a variety of large plastic garbage cans and bags.

Organizers of the local vertical oyster garden (VOG) initiative are Gulfport Vice Mayor Paul Ray and Jon Ziegler, who is the city’s Gecko Queen. Ziegler also works at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW), a non-profit environmental group located in Tierra Verde. Ziegler is expanding the traditionally ceremonial role of Gecko Queen to include community activism that benefits Gulfport and its surrounding waters. TBW and Gulfport have teamed up in a grassroots effort to install 500 VOGs at the municipal marina, which will be part of a grant-funded study for one year.

Wearing thick rubberized work gloves, workshop volunteers threaded pre-drilled and recycled oyster shells onto three-foot lengths of braided nylon rope to create vertical oyster gardens (VOGs) that will be hung off saltwater docks in the inner tidal zone of the Tampa Bay estuary like at the Gulfport Municipal Marina and at private residences. To create one VOG, about 25 to 30 shells fit on a three-foot length of rope. Another rope and special mounting hardware are used to attach a VOG to a saltwater dock. Each VOG is suspended down into the water column matching the depth where local live Eastern oysters and barnacles are already living on nearby pilings and seawalls.



One comment

  1. The filtration rates for oysters in this story seem very optimistic and oysters really don’t clean water the way people are being told they. a more accurate filtration rate for and 80mm oyster is about 2-liters per hour or about 1/2 gallon. We should be careful not to think shellfish aquaculture is replacing natural shellfish populations or the valuable habitat they provide.

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