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In Gibsonton, engineers want to return an old fish farm to nature

The restoration is seen as a necessary, if small, piece of conservation on Tampa Bay’s heavily developed shore.

GIBSONTON — Before invasive shrubs swallowed the land, the lot near the edge of Tampa Bay was home to a couple hundred ponds full of tropical fish, the type that fill glass aquariums.

Then the farm’s owner abandoned the property, and Brazilian peppertree crept over the ground off Kracker Avenue, obscuring the narrow old pools in a thick, green tangle. This summer, heavy equipment operators have started to bulldoze the site west of U.S. 41 S.

They are transforming the land — this time not for business, but for nature.

“Our opportunities are getting fewer and fewer each year,” said Nancy Norton, who works on coastal restoration for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.

So much of Tampa Bay has been paved over, dug up and built upon that finding a stretch of shoreline to conserve, even one as messy as the 25-acre Kracker Avenue site, is considered a triumph.

Concrete seawalls and subdivisions have replaced wetlands all over, Norton said. “Where those wading birds and the nurseries for fish used to have space, they’ve lost that.”