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Shell of an effort: Volunteers help Tampa Bay Watch revitalize Weedon Island shore

Published Apr. 12, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Some folks head for the water on the weekend. Others work out. Last weekend one group of people did both at once, all while helping the environment.

To create sustainable habitats for sea life and protect the shorelines, new oyster shell reefs were created along Weedon Island Preserve by Tampa Bay Watch, in partnership with Restore America's Estuaries, NOAA's Restoration Center and the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management.

About 40 volunteers filled mesh bags with oyster shells and placed them around the shoreline of Weedon Island. Oyster shells enhance the habitat and reduce erosion, according to Serra Herndon, restoration director of Tampa Bay Watch.

The bags weigh 30 to 35 pounds.

"It's a good workout for a good cause," said Tampa Bay Watch's communications coordinator, Rachel Arndt.

"I'm always amazed by the people willing to come out to do the heavy lifting and sweat," Herndon said.

About 15 tons of fossilized shells were brought in.

Gerry and Betsy Stupiansky, a married couple who are retired teachers, gave a helping hand.

"They place bags about 2 feet high and 4 feet deep," Betsy said. "It's right along the shore."

This is the second time the Stupianskys have helped to create oyster shell reef habitats.

"This is for the environment and saving the shoreline," Gerry said. "It's a great thing to be a part of."

The shells encourage new oysters to grow and provide a food source for sea life, and they help to stabilize the shoreline and filter the water.

"When I moved to Tampa Bay in 1987, the bay was brown," said Jim Igler, who is affiliated with Tampa Bay Watch. Igler has focused on the water quality and estuaries and says projects like these have really made a difference.

"Clearwater is called Clearwater for a reason," Igler said. "Now when I cross the Skyway bridge and other bridges in Tampa Bay and look at the water, the water is blue again."