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Grant program awards nearly $625,000
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ST. PETERSBURG – An innovative public-private grant partnership forged by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will provide almost $625,000 to nine agencies or organizations for important restoration, applied research and education projects in the Tampa Bay watershed.

The 2014 Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund grant recipients were recognized in a special ceremony June 3 at Clam Bayou Nature Preserve, 4148 34th Ave. S., St. Petersburg. The event featured speakers such as Steve Kornell, St. Petersburg councilman and estuary program policy board chair; Bo Davis, The Mosaic Company vice president of phosphate operations and The Mosaic Company Foundation board member; and Wendy Griffin of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The 2014 fund is financed with contributions from SWFWMD, The Mosaic Company Foundation through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Manatee County, Pinellas County, TECO Energy, the Florida Department of Transportation and Port Tampa Bay.

According to a press release, the estuary program and Restore America’s Estuaries, which have pledged to work together to recruit financial donors and achieve measurable conservation outcomes from the funded projects, are managing the grant program jointly.

Nine of the 14 grant proposals were awarded full or partial funding. They include:

• Colonial Waterbird Management in the Tampa Bay Watershed ($36,000) – Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuary staff will manage and track population trends and threats in nationally significant waterbird nesting colonies supporting 50,000 pairs of 31 bird species annually.

• Safety Harbor Waterfront Park Habitat Restoration ($70,000) – The city of Safety Harbor will remove invasive plants from a planned passive-use public park and replant with native species to restore six acres of marsh/mangrove wetlands.

• Mapping of Hard-Bottom Habitat in Tampa Bay ($150,000) – SWFWMD will inventory and assess the quality of hard bottom reefs, oyster beds, and tidal flats in Tampa Bay to determine historic extent and develop restoration/protection targets for these important habitats.

• Coastal Blue Carbon Assessment ($100,000) – RAE will assess the climate mitigation benefits associated with restoring salt marshes, mangroves and seagrass beds in the Tampa Bay ecosystem. These three habitat types are collectively called “coastal blue carbon habitats” for their ability to sequester carbon that contributes to climate change.

• Rock Ponds Coastal Ecosystem Restoration ($60,000) – Tampa Bay Watch will plant marsh grasses utilizing community volunteers to enhance or restore 20 acres of tidal wetland habitat over a two-year period as part of the comprehensive restoration of former shell mining pits on Tampa Bay’s southeast shore.

• Oyster Bar Restoration at Robinson Preserve ($53,000) – Manatee County will install 7,500-square-feet of oyster beds as part of the comprehensive restoration of a 651-acre county preserve.

• Duette Preserve Hydrologic Restoration ($87,260) – Manatee County will restore forested and non-forested freshwater wetlands by removing manmade ditches to recreate natural hydrologic flows in the eastern Manatee River watershed.

• Bay Soundings Environmental Journal ($25,000) – The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council will produce, print and distribute one year (four issues) of this popular environmental journal informing citizens about bay management trends, issues and accomplishments.

• MacDill Air Force Base Living Shoreline ($41,000) – Tampa Bay Watch will place 137 tons of oyster reefs and plant 1,000 linear feet of salt marsh grass utilizing community volunteers as part of a comprehensive restoration along the southeastern shoreline of MacDill AFB.

The funding and administrative partnership was cobbled together by the estuary program as a permanent replacement for the highly successful Pinellas County Environmental Fund. That program provided more than $10 million over a decade for bay restoration projects. When it was phased out, TBEP led the search for new sponsors to keep this important grant opportunity afloat. Last year, SWFWMD, The Mosaic Company Foundation, Hillsborough County and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the program as the Tampa Bay Environmental Fund, which provided $950,000 for 10 bay projects.

This year, RAE – a respected national alliance of 11 community-based conservation organizations – agreed to join the partnership in a key management role, and the name of the program was modified to the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

All the 2013 and 2014 grant fund recipients, along with the partners whose generous contributions support the grants, were recognized in a ceremony at Clam Bayou.
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