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Volunteers Create Vertical Oyster Gardens for Gulfport

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.