Oldsmar and Safety Harbor have long enjoyed their relationship as sister cities sitting at the top of upper Tampa Bay, including the recent return of the long-running Mayors’ Breakfast.

This year, Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel and Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub have decided to partner with the nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch on a friendly challenge called Save Our Bay, a unique project designed to get the communities to work together to help clean the waters of upper Tampa Bay.

The joint program is set to kick off with a vertical oyster garden workshop on Saturday, Dec. 11, at 9 a.m. at the pier shelter in Oldsmar’s R.E. Olds Park, where staff will provide supplies for participants to string oyster shells on rope materials that will be hung from private docks to help filter the bay waters.

“According to a water quality report provided by Tampa Bay Watch, our upper Tampa Bay waters are the least healthy of the entire bay,” Seidel said in a news release announcing the Save Our Bay program. “Upon hearing this information, I reached out to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and learned of the benefits of Vertical Oyster Gardens. A healthy oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, which will help clean our bay through these sustainable efforts.”

Indeed, according to the Tampa Bay Watch website, vertical oyster gardens, or VOGs, are “made of recycled oyster shells from local restaurants and are suspended from docks to create a hard substrate to which juvenile oysters can attach and develop.

“Oysters are natural filters, cleaning up to 2.5 gallons of water per hour. More oysters mean a cleaner bay!”

Mayor Ayoub, who hosts a tree planting program every year, said he is equally excited to participate in the Save Our Bay program. “Safety Harbor is excited to participate in the Save Our Bay Mayor’s Challenge,” Ayoub stated in the release. “We are looking forward to the good this program will do for our bay!”

Coincidentally, Gov. Ron DeSantis made a stop at R.E. Olds Park on Dec. 7, where he spoke about his new sustainability grants and initiatives, which are expected to infuse hundreds of millions of dollars for programs into dozens of Sunshine State communities over the next few years.

Among those grants will be a $2 million matching grant for the city of Oldsmar’s water reclamation facility control building initially constructed in 1973. The project will replace the existing control building with a two-story structure to include storage on the first floor and a control center, conference room, offices, and lab on the second floor. In addition, the new building will meet or exceed current flood protection requirements to provide continuous wastewater treatment and protect public health during all projected weather conditions, according to a news release from the city.

And while the governor did not mention the VOG project, Seidel said the fact that he came to Oldsmar to talk about sustainability issues spoke volumes about his city’s commitment to the cause.

“I love the fact that we are gaining more and more momentum on the sustainability of our community, and I think having the governor here talking about sustainability today and hosting the oyster garden workshop with Mayor Joe on Saturday will go a long way toward helping to continue our ongoing sustainability efforts in the upper Tampa Bay area,” Seidel said.