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Tampa Bay’s largest ecosystem restoration reaches completion

The Apollo Beach woman had volunteered to dig holes and help plant some 10,000 plugs of seashore paspalum in the sand of Rock Ponds, a restoration project along the verdant Tampa Bay coast south of Ruskin.

She jabbed the pointed piece of steel into the ground, but struck a bit of limestone, piercing only an inch or so into the soil before thunking against the rock. Again, she plunged it into the ground; again, the soil refused to yield.

All around her, more than 50 volunteers were doing the same, providing the finishing touches to a two-year project to restore more than 1,000 acres of wetlands, uplands, saltwater and freshwater marshes. The Rock Ponds Ecosystem Restoration Project is the biggest such effort in Tampa Bay’s history and it used a cadre of volunteers and paid help to dredge, move earth and plant natural foliage on the publicly owned property.

Long said she has come out four times to help restore nature here in this pristine part of the coastline just south of Cockroach Bay and north of the Manatee County line.

“I want to help,” she said, “I want to build something; to leave it better than when I came here.”

Under the Surface Water Improvement and Management program at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the $11.9 million Rock Ponds project is the largest ecosystem restoration ever undertaken in the region. On Wednesday, the district will hold a dedication ceremony marking the completion of the work.

The project illustrates the cooperation of the state, the water management district and Hillsborough County, all of which paid for the land and the work done to shape and mold the property into a natural wildlife habitat.