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One man hopes to liven up the bay

A reef of about 70 concrete balls is planned to beckon marine life and stop erosion.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 19, 2002


Eric McKsymick noticed it a few years ago while fishing along Bayshore Boulevard. The fish weren't biting because they didn't live there.

Then he got to thinking. What could he do to restore the shore and attract birds and fish?

Build an oyster reef.

In December, McKsymick received a $7,300 grant from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to install the reef just north of Gandy Boulevard in Hillsborough Bay. The underwater barrier would create a home for crabs, fish and oysters, and would soften the impact of waves crashing against the seawall.

"It would stop the erosion of the little piece of shoreline we have left," said McKsymick, a major at MacDill Air Force Base, who lives in Bayshore Beautiful.

Environmentalists say that without the constant waves, the sediment could build up naturally along the seawall, allowing grasses and other water-cleansing plants to grow.

"We've lost a lot of wetlands in the Tampa Bay over the last century," said Nanette Holland, public outreach coordinator for the estuary program. "This is definitely a way to put back some habitat."

McKsymick's plan calls for installing 60 to 70 large concrete balls in a 12-by-50-foot area of the bay facing Bayshore Beautiful. Oysters would accumulate on balls, attracting other marine life. They would not be harvested.

McKsymick, who is working on behalf of the Bayshore Beautiful Homeowners Association, hopes to sink the balls this summer with help from an area Boy Scout troop. The plan has the blessing of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but needs approval from the Tampa Port Authority and Hillsborough County, he said.

In the meantime, the association is pursuing a $23,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to add a marsh area similar to a Southwest Florida Water Management District restoration project just north of the Air Force base.

The association, which adopted the shore and keeps it clean, chipped in $5,000.

McKsymick has the support from area environmental groups, including the Agency on Bay Management, which manages and protects Tampa Bay.

"It's sort of a pilot to show us what we might be able to do with the rest of Bayshore," said Suzanne Cooper, who works for the agency.

Supporters insist that the reef would not affect the beauty of Bayshore, Tampa's favorite spot for exercising and relaxing along the water. Drivers would not see it from Bayshore and it would not block people's view of the water.

"Anything you can do to help the Hillsborough Bay is good," McKsymick said. "This is almost no cost."

- Susan Thurston can be reached at 226-3394 or at thurston@sptimes.com.

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