MANATEE -- Manatee County has been awarded money to add 7,500 square feet of ecologically valuable oyster bed habitat at Robinson Preserve, officials said Monday.
"The oysters will colonize on the reefs we're providing, and provide cleaner waters, and also provide an abundant location for sport fishing, as sport fish will feed in those oyster beds," said Charlie Hunsicker, director of parks and natural resources. "Ecological services extend to both water quality and new habitats, which have a direct and positive relationship to sport fishing."
About $53,000 for the project will come from the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund, controlled by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program Policy Board, according to Holly Greening, executive director.
The project also calls for a 2,000-square-foot "floating island" to provide rare nesting habitat for colony-forming seabirds at Robinson Preserve, 1704 99th St. NW, Bradenton, according to Damon Moore, environmental program manager for the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.
The estuary board also awarded $87,260 for hydrologic restoration at Duette Preserve in East Manatee.
"It will provide better flood attenuation in our more significant storms, holding more water back on the land, and therefore providing a greater and more reliable supply of drinking water downstream in the Lake Manatee Reservoir," Hunsicker said.
Both projects require matching grants or in-kind contributions from Manatee County, he said.
The policy board also chose seven other competitively awarded projects elsewhere to improve Tampa Bay's water quality and wildlife habitats, Greening said.
Tampa Bay is Florida's largest open-water estuary stretching 398 miles at high tide, according to the estuary program website. Estuaries form where saltwater mingles with freshwater from rivers and uplands creating rich wildlife nurseries.
The Manatee County Commission will review the two environmental improvement projects Tuesday, plus an agreement to
contribute $75,000 from the phosphate rock tax to the restoration fund. The fund includes $622,260 for 2014 projects, Greening said.
"For a $75,000 contribution, we are able to leverage that amount of money and more for work in our Lake Manatee watershed and along Lower Tampa Bay in our critical estuaries of Manatee County," said Hunsicker. "We're putting in $75,000, and nearly doubling our money with participation, along with our other partners in the program. This is another outstanding example of working on behalf of our taxpayers to extend our abilities to build outstanding habitats with limited funds."
Restoration fund contributors include Manatee County, neighboring Pinellas County, The Mosaic Company Foundation, Florida Department of Transportation, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Port Tampa Bay and Tampa Electric.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.