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Shell game: In a place where everybody's livelihood is yoked to the water, you have to follow the shells

T.J. Ward was born the year after his grandfather had the throat cancer surgery. T.J. never heard his natural voice. The seaman's single clap would cut through the salt air on the docks of Apalachicola louder than words could.

When he was a boy, T.J. didn't draw dragons or superheroes. It was pictures of boats, netting and rigging just so.

When he was 10, his grandfather named a boat after him. No one ever named a boat for you unless you were old or dead. But there it was: The Captain T.J.

When he was a teen, his summer job was washing oysters. They were so plentiful then, he'd sit on the tailgate and eat a pile, scooping out the meat fresh from the bay, the shells falling like peanuts at a ball game.

When T.J. was a young man, he left his family's 13 Mile Oyster House, sustained for four generations by the daily miracles of Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, to try to make something different of himself in college.

When the bay and his family were all but destroyed, he came back.

And then T.J. did something he never thought he would. He motored into the waters of the next county, where such things are allowed, and began experimenting with technology that could leave four generations of Ward family oystering obsolete.

READ MORE: In a place where everybody's livelihood is yoked to the water, you have to follow the shells

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