Myakka facility helps in wetland and beach restoration with aquatic plant production

Aquatic plants raised in Myakka City travel far and wide

jajones1@bradenton.comJune 2, 2014 

MYAKKA CITY -- A cutting edge company operating quietly in Myakka City and eastern Sarasota County has aided wetland mitigation efforts and beach restoration projects from Florida to New Jersey and Texas.

Aquatic Plants of Florida officials estimate since 1994 the company has installed 20 million plants in sensitive environmental areas. The company helped with recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Florida panhandle and Superstorm Sandy on the New Jersey coast.

But that only hints at the company's activities.

The company grows 135 species of plants, making it a leading Florida grower of native grasses, coastal plant species, trees and shrubs.

Gil Sharell Jr., son of the company founder, said the process starts with harvesting seed from each plant species, including Everglades sawgrass, giant bulrush from Kissimmee, microscopic black needle rush that grows along the Manatee River and dune species from Lido Key.

Some seed can be collected from airboats with mechanical harvesters, but others must be collected by hand, including the tiny black needle rush.

The seed is cleaned and stored in vacuum packs. Five pounds of Everglades sawgrass seed can produce 200,000 plants, Sharell said.

Aquatic Plants raises its plants from those seeds at the Mote Aquaculture Research Park on Fruitville Road and at its facility on Wauchula Road, north of

Myakka City.

At each facility, science and aquaculture merge.

The plant species raised by Aquatic Plants at Mote Aquaculture Research Park feed on nutrients released into the water by Mote's saltwater fish being raised inland.

"You have to have a way to deal with the waste water. The waste from the fish is used as fertilizer for the plants," said Kevan Main, Mote director and senior scientist. "The plants help filter the nutrients out of the water."

Main says the work being done by Aquatic Plants and Mote is a partnership. "You have two products being produced here: fish and plants," she said.

Aquatic Plants raises plants indoors and outdoors at Mote. Outdoors, it has about 10 acres where bulrushes, purple pickerel weed, and yellow canna, among other plans, flourish. Indoors, it raises sea grasses, mangroves, and more.

At its 35-acre Myakka facility, it grows a wide range of plants from cypress trees to sea grapes and sea grass.

Some of the work starts in the tissue culture lab, where plants that have been cloned are separated and placed in tiny clear tubes. Friday, the techs were working with sand cordgrass.

The cloning starts with the mother block, which in the animal world would be called the breeding stock, Sharell said.

"We have the potential to produce 250,000 plants in our lab," he said.

About 85 percent of Aquatic Plants' contracts comes from state and federal agencies, and it can be difficult to plan for those jobs.

The Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association reported in its May issue a number of programs planned around the state for 2014 and 2015, among them Anna Maria Island/Cortez groin replacement, and beach renourishment at Coquina Beach and Longboat Key.

"Juggling so many kinds of specialized projects is beneficial for the company. We have never been able to put a thumb on where the demand will be," Sharell said.

Since the Great Recession, governmental contracts have fallen off sharply, but recently there has been an increase in contracts from the commercial and residential sectors, he said.

Aquatic Plants sells its plants to other companies and also handles all phases of restoration projects, including planting and maintenance.

"We can bid as a sub or prime contractor," Sharell said.

For information, visit apofl.com.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.

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