Kaylee Polk, 17, digs a hole to plant vegetation at a marsh during Tampa Bay Watch event last Friday. LUKE JOHNSON/TRIBUNE
BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT Tribune staff
Published: February 13, 2014
Updated: February 13, 2014 at 11:42 AM
The green and brown sprigs of these tiny plants don’t look like they would go very far in covering long, eroded swaths of the Tampa Bay shoreline. But the miniature salt marsh bulbs Lakewood High School students Kaylee Polk and Brittany Makuta plopped into the mud behind the headquarters of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch last Thursday morning will spread quickly. In fact, since 1995, students working with the organization’s Bay Grasses in Classes program have covered 140 acres of denuded wetlands along the shore with new marsh grass. Tarpon Springs High is one of five Pinellas County schools that participates in the Bay Grasses in Classes program. This is the third year the school has participated with Tampa Bay Watch to create and nurture its on-campus salt marsh nursery.
A $25,000 contribution from lawn company Scotts Miracle-Gro will help the program plant 80,000 more of these little plants, which are critical for stopping erosion and sustaining water quality, Tampa Bay Watch President Peter Clark said at a news conference Thursday. “Tampa Bay is one of the few estuaries in the country that we’re able to say, because of the commitment we’ve had over the last 30 years, we’ve really been able to make a difference,” Clark said. Up to 400 more acres of salt marsh will be going into a 2,500-acre tract of farmland along the bay in Ruskin that is being converted into a lagoon and wetland in a big restoration project. “We are firmly committed to leaving a healthier Florida than we got to when we moved here in 2009,” said Chris Allen, regional president for Scotts Miracle-Gro, the world’s largest marketer of consumer lawn and garden products. Scotts Miracle-Gro released another statement Monday afternoon when it announced a commitment of $5 million over three years to fund Florida-based scientific research, consumer education and environmental enhancement initiatives. Last Thursday, Allen joined Tampa Bay Watch leaders and Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni at Tampa Bay Watch’s headquarters on the Pinellas Bayway on the outskirts of Fort De Soto Park. Tampa Bay Watch has tangible proof of its success in protecting local waters with an army of volunteers; for example, water quality in the bay is at its highest level since monitoring began in the 1970s, Clark said. In the past four years, 10,000 new acres of sea grass has appeared due to the cleaner, clearer water. A part of that improvement can be tied to the 14 salt marsh nurseries at bay area schools, whose students carefully monitor the plants for months before going out to sites such as Cockroach Bay Preserve in southern Hillsborough County to plant them. Allen said that as Miracle-Gro’s participation continues, its local employees plan to work alongside students on corporate volunteer days. Suncoast News reporter Eric Horchy contributed to this article.