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Tampa Bay Watch volunteers use shell bags to help protect Whiskey Stump Key from erosion

Shell protectors
Posted at 6:43 PM, May 13, 2021

RIVERVIEW, Fla. — Tampa Bay Watch volunteers are working to protect wildlife on a small Tampa Bay island that is eroding because of heavy shipping traffic, and they’re doing it with shells.

Over the course of two years, 65 tons of fossilized shells have been scooped and bagged by volunteers.

"It's a day at the gym, and I get a lot more out of it emotionally than I would at the gym," said Rick Powell, a volunteer with Tampa Bay Watch.

The shell bags are put on a boat and taken out to the small historical island of Whiskey Stump Key that is eroding from being near a shipping canal.

"What these are going to do is help establish a substrate for oysters to settle on," said Richard Radigan, oyster shell program coordinator for Tampa Bay Watch.

More than 700 artificial reefs and thousands of shell bags create a habitat for oysters that help clean the water and creates a living barrier to protect the shoreline.

"It helps to maintain the whole estuary system which maintains the whole life of the Tampa Bay area," said Powell.

Radigan says the island is a natural sanctuary for birds and other wildlife.

"It's an important nesting ground for birds and other marine species around the island," said Radigan.

And helping the environment and wildlife is something that Powell says is worth every second.

"Being out in God's creation, earning about the birds and floating with the tide and being one with nature, it does touch your soul," said Powell.