A reef is born
Determined volunteers create an ecosystem on the shores
of Tampa Bay with concrete balls, of all things.
By RON MATUS
© St. Petersburg Times
The 100-foot strip of mud at the south end of the Bayshore
Boulevard balustrade isn't much to look at.
Two lonely mangroves grip eroding soil. Trash is
But the aesthetically challenged beach couldn't stop more
than 80 volunteers from helping it Saturday.
One by one, they planted 125 pieces of concrete, each
shaped like an upside-down punch bowl and weighing about 150
pounds, in knee-high water.
The concrete will become a mini reef, attracting oysters,
fish and birds. It will also act as a shock absorber for
incoming waves so mangroves won't be undermined.
"These small pieces of natural Florida add a lot to our
quality of life," said Nanette Holland with the Tampa Bay
Estuary Program, which gave $7,500 for the Bayshore project.
"I like to think of them as small oases."
Bayshore Beautiful and Ballast Point residents evidently
Volunteers led by Ballast Point resident Mike Flynn made
more than 60 of the concrete structures, which are hollow
inside, pocked with hand-sized holes and better known as "reef
balls." The rest were bought from a company in Sarasota.
To deposit them in the water, volunteers formed two
parallel lines from the shore to the shallows. Two men set the
reef balls on stretchers made of plywood and 2-by-4's.
Then the lines moved them, passing the stretchers from hand
to hand like an old-fashioned bucket brigade. At the end, four
people with straining muscles walked the final 100 feet to
other volunteers, who laid the reef balls snug in the mud.
"Is someone going to give me a massage?" said Bayshore
Beautiful resident Ron Rangel, taking a bottled water break
after an hour of lugging.
The reef balls made an ironic splash.
Until the sea wall was built decades ago, mangroves
dominated the west shore of Hillsborough Bay. Now, concrete is
being used to save what shore remains.
"Sort of a turnabout on an old theme," Holland said.
Two similar projects are in the works.
At MacDill Air Force Base, officials are seeking permits to
build an 800-foot-long artificial reef along the base's
In Ballast Point Park, residents want to replace waterfront
rubble with marsh grass and protect the newly vegetated shore
with reef balls.
Some optimists, looking years into the future, see restored
shoreline stretching several hundred yards, from the park to
"This is just where it starts," Eric McKsymick said.
McKsymick, an Air Force officer and former Bayshore
Beautiful resident, secured money for the Bayshore project
from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and began the process of
securing permits from government agencies.
When he was transferred last summer from Tampa to Alabama,
Flynn kept the reef balls rolling.
Both men were on hand Saturday.
Small as it is, the muddy strip is still "its own little
ecosystem," Flynn said.
Herons stalk fish. Fiddler crabs emerge from holes. A mama
duck guards her eggs. The better the shore is protected, the
more life it will support, supporters say.
They have faith in their new reef.
As if to prove it, they brought new life to the little
beach, planting 1,700 plugs of marsh grass.
-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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