Pinellas County's 1,800-acre Shell Key Preserve protects sensitive marine habitats and includes one of the county's largest undeveloped barrier islands (Shell Key) as well as numerous mangrove islands and expansive sea grass beds
TIERRA VERDE – It was standing room only at the Oct. 12 board meeting of the Tierra Verde Community Association where Tampa Bay Watch president, Peter Clark gave his presentation on the closure of Shell Key pass.
The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. garnered such interest that a last-minute second presentation was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. that evening to accommodate the overflow.
With what looked to be a make-shift white sheet tacked to the wall as a screen, Clark presented a slide show of Shell Key that showed aerial views of the affected area from 1951 until just a month or two ago. The progression of slides documented the seepage of sand over the last 15 years into the channel until the Shell Key pass completely closed in May.
In one of the more recent photos, Clark pointed out a kayak in the photo, saying, “This looks like the last kayaker to make it through the pass (before it closed).”
According to Clark, the encroachment of sand into the channel is a result of the beach nourishment projects north of Tierra Verde drifting into the area. Photos also revealed that the grand canal of Tierra Verde is beginning to close. The new Tierra Verde marina, restaurant, and hotel are currently under construction, and subsequently in the line of fire as well.
Clark, founder and president of Tampa Bay Watch, is a marine biologist with expertise in natural resource restoration, water quality, and environmental planning. Since he founded Tampa Bay Watch 22 years ago, Clark has been instrumental in getting Tampa Bay into the EPA’s National Estuary Program and has been awarded recognition for outstanding environmental
work from both the Florida Marine Research Institute and American Fisheries Society.
Since the pass closed, there is a significant decline in seagrass, fish, and seabirds. Predators, such as coyotes and raccoons are now making their way to the estuary where seabirds and turtles nest, thereby causing further decline of the marine habitat. The water that residents say used to be crystal clear has become murky at best with an increase in algae. Clark reported there was evidence that some residents were trying to shovel out the channel themselves at night, which he strongly discouraged as “dangerous.”
According to Clark, the best option, so far, is to dredge the pass. Clark believes that the sand dredged from Shell Key could be used for local beach nourishment projects, and that, like beach nourishment, the pass at Shell Key will need to be redredged periodically. Returning the water quality is one of Clark’s goals.
Currently, Clark is working with both state officials and county commissioners who support the idea of dredging. Additionally, Clark said he has been in contact with Congressman David Jolly who sits on committees governing the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida state representative Kathleen Peters of the 69th District (which includes Pinellas County) was present at the meeting. Peters addressed the crowd at the conclusion of the meeting, saying, “I promise you we will solve this.”
The next community meeting on the issue is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 27, 6:30 p.m., at 3000 Pinellas Bayway South.
Clark said that the next meeting’s venue could accommodate more people.
About Shell Key Preserve
Pinellas County's 1,800-acre Shell Key Preserve protects sensitive marine habitats and includes one of the county's largest undeveloped barrier islands (Shell Key) as well as numerous mangrove islands and expansive sea grass beds, according to information on the county's website.
Shell Key has been designated as one of the state's most important areas for shorebird nesting and wintering and it serves as an important study area for these species. It also is an important area for recreation. A balance for both uses was established by restricting public use to the northern and southern ends of the island. A central core area for conservation is closed to the public.
Suzette Porter contributed information about the preserve.