On Sept. 26, 2017, the Board of County Commissioners approved a grant agreement with FDEP’s Florida Coastal Management Program for an oyster and marsh grass habitat restoration project. The project location is just north of Hernando Beach, in Centipede Bay.
Aquatic Services Director Keith Kolasa stated, “The reason why we picked this area is because there’s not a lot of fish habitat in Centipede Bay… There’s a lot of sand there, scattered seagrass… That’s why we’re focusing on this area, to allow fishing and wildlife enhancement near Hernando Beach.”
The project is also anticipated to improve water quality and reduce shoreline erosion. The small organisms ecologically supported by the project will in turn attract larger fish species such as redfish, snapper, sheepshead and black drum.
Typically, oyster reefs are built using plastic mesh bags filled with oyster shell. The bags are placed side by side within an area which will eventually fill in to become a live oyster reef. This substrate is ideal for encouraging the proliferation of juvenile oysters after the bags are seeded with eggs.
Kolasa stated that the process involves a lot of volunteers.
The project stems from a pilot project that began in the Spring of 2016- which was a collaboration between county staff, Florida Sea Grant agent Brittany Hall Scharf and the Hernando County Port Authority. The pilot project focused on areas that have a lack of oyster habitat or seagrass. According to the county, “Data collected from over an eight-month period indicated excellent rates of oyster spat settlement and survival, suggesting good potential for a successful pilot project. The project location was selected based on a spatial comparison of the data, locating the site where oyster recruitment and survival rates were the greatest. A design plan was created in-house and staff began applying for permits for the pilot.”
The results of the project were promising which prompted staff from the University of Florida (UF), Florida Sea Grant, and County to apply for a grant through the Coastal Partnership Initiative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), submitting an application on October 26, 2016. The project was ranked third of the thirty projects submitted. In March of 2017, the FDEP notified the organizations that the grant award for the project was issued.
Kolasa stated the the permitting process through the FDEP and Army Corps of Engineers proved to be challenging, but now that they have gone through the process, it will be easier for future projects. They ended up having to go back and revise the site plan to meet permitting requirements for both FDEP and Army Corps.
The University will be allocating an intern to coordinate volunteers and will be purchasing the majority of supplies. They will have financial oversight and oversee project management, being the primary recipient of the $29,090.00 grant. Dr. Joshua Patterson with the University of Florida will act as the project lead/ principal investigator.
The county is matching the funds through in-kind contributions and volunteer man-hours. (They estimate that 550 hours of volunteer time will be needed to complete the project.) Many of those volunteers will be coming from the Coastal Conservation Association.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Stock Enhancement Research Facility in Port Manatee has donated 1,000 marsh grass plants to create marsh grass nurseries.
“This project is really a great example of what we want to do in the future with the University of Florida and the Nature Coast Biological Station- how we can work together to leverage our funds,” said Kolasa.
“We hope to do more of these data collection and restoration projects,” he said.