Sarasota Bay Watch Happenings by Larry Stults

Awesome Water Experience!

In 2014 Pine View School student member Zack Jordan partnered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters (BBBW) of Sarasota and created A.W.E. (Awesome Water Experience) to provide kayak paddle trips for “Littles” and their “Bigs” through the mangrove tunnels at South Lido Park. Zack went on to become a Sarasota Bay Watch student board member, and now is in college at Brown University. His fabulous A.W.E. events needed a new leader so Sarasota Bay Watch stepped up and adopted the program. True to its initial mission, SBW’s current student board members are reaching out to kids in our community to provide good role models and unique life experiences through the A.W.E program. Ellie (Cardinal Mooney), Eliza (Riverview High School) and Finn (Pine View) organized the most recent event, and were kayak guides for 20 BBBS paddlers in early June. The morning included discussion of our local marine ecosystem, sightings of many sea birds, crabs, sea urchins, fish – and even a mangrove snake! Dr. Kim Hull of Mote Marine Laboratory shared her marine expertise and many fun facts about the things we saw along the way. After the paddle the Sarasota Yacht Club hosted our intrepid explorers for lunch. Thanks to our student board members, SYC, FLOW Kayaks and Paddle Tours, individual sponsor Bob T. who donated generously so every child and their Big got a T-shirt, reusable water bottle and marine field guide.

Also in early June SBW hosted the first ever underwater cleanup of New Pass at Ken Thompson Park – a big event with over 35 divers, a dozen on-the-water kayakers and jet ski supporters, and 30 top-side helpers to process the trash and debris brought up from the bottom. Crabs, fish, octopi, and other entangled marine life were freed from the debris and released back into the water. Our volunteers removed from the bay over 300 lbs. of lead weights, 42 cast nets, fishing knives, rods and reels, fishing tackle, chairs, pipe, etc. It was a morning well spent! And it was a great partnership with the City of Sarasota, City Police, Sarasota Sailing Squadron and Marina Jack that made it all possible.

Island Park, a favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, is getting a living seawall! Over the years the southern facing shoreline of Island Park, by O’Leary’s grill, has washed away. A new seawall is being built to recapture the lost land and stop future erosion. But the City of Sarasota is going a step further and adding living seawall components to the front of the seawall to create nooks and grannies for marine life to thrive. The traditional vertical seawall will be finished by October, after which the living seawall will be installed. It will be a great demonstration of the City’s commitment to sustainable living and a boost for the bay. Imagine how healthy the bay and our fisheries would be if all of Sarasota’s 800 miles of hardened shorelines were living seawalls! SBW was instrumental is kick-starting local interest in living seawalls, and we are proud that both the City of Palmetto and City of Sarasota are taking the lead to protect and restore our local waters through living seawalls.

Finally, SBW’s clam restoration project is going full steam ahead. We have a quarter of a million southern hard clams growing south of Boca Grande under the watchful eye of a commercial clam farmer. These clams will grow to a “predator proof” size in about a year, and then be harvested and relocated to Sarasota Bay. Meanwhile, SBW volunteers have already planted 60,000 juvenile clams into local grass beds. Rebuilding clam, scallop and oyster populations in the bay is a great way to clean the water, increase biological diversity, and provide food for a wide array of marine life. This program is generously supported by START, Bay Shellfish Company, and the Disney Conservation Fund.

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