Local businessman Ed Chiles speaks January 13 to Anna Maria town commissioners. He asked for $50,000 to help fund clam seeding and the planting of seagrass along the city’s shores to improve water quality. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
A graphic included in the Gulf Shellfish Institute’s Jan. 13 presentation to Anna Maria town commissioners illustrates where the Terra Ceia-based Diatom Initiative plans to seed approximately 20,000 clams along Anna’s northern shoreline. Maria and Bimini Bay. Island image: Courtesy of Gulf Shellfish Institute
The waters around Anna Maria could one day be home to around 20,000 new residents – clams.
But the city commissioners want to keep the options open for now.
Commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 13 to hold a discussion on a proposed project to seed clams and add cultivated seagrass areas along the city’s north shoreline on Tampa Bay and in Bimini Bay.
The city has earmarked $50,000 of the $740,432 it received from the US American Rescue Plan to spend on red tide mitigation, according to Mayor Dan Murphy.
Local restaurateur Ed Chiles wrote in a Jan. 7 email to Murphy that if the city agreed to use the money for a clam and seagrass project, the Chiles Group would announce a $50,000 matching challenge. $ to increase funding to $150,000.
Chiles, who is appointed vice president of the Gulf Shellfish Institute Inc., brought in executive chairman Stephen Hesterberg to present the project Jan. 13 to commissioners.
GSI is a non-profit organization based in Palmetto whose mission is to “facilitate, support and encourage the increase in shellfish production…for both economic and environmental benefits,” according to its website, gulfshellfishinstitute.org .
Hesterberg said seeding filter feeders such as clams — which can each filter up to 4.5 gallons of water per day — could improve water quality and marine resilience to red tide.
Red tide is a higher than normal concentration of a naturally occurring algae, especially Karenia brevis, which exists in waters year-round but, at high levels, produces brevetoxins that can kill marine life and be harmful to humans, according to Mote Marine Laboratory.
Algae can sometimes bloom in high concentrations, can cause respiratory tract irritation that bothers swimmers, and kills fish that impacts commercial fishermen.
The clams wouldn’t stop the red tide from reaching city waters, but Hesterberg said they could reduce hot spots by removing toxins from the water.
Clams also feed seagrass beds, which provide food and habitat for marine life, by consuming phytoplankton and depositing nitrogen on the seabed, according to Hesterberg.
He said GSI would oversee a collaborative project. The Diatom initiative would stock two species of bivalves, the southern clams and the Venus clams. And Sea & Shoreline, based in Winter Garden, would plant seagrass.
The Diatom Initiative would monitor seeded clams on a quarterly basis for one year, while Sea & Shoreline would monitor seagrass beds planted annually for three years.
Both contractors would report to GSI, which would help monitor and evaluate the proposed marine restoration and report back to the city.
Angela Collins, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science Officer for Manatee County, attended the meeting and expressed her support to the audience.
“There would be several research projects happening in conjunction with this one that could really provide some synergy and really elevate the level of research that’s happening in the Tampa Bay area,” Collins said.
Commissioner Deanie Sebring supported the continuation of the project, but Commissioner Jonathan Crane urged the commission to postpone discussion until its next meeting.
Crane said that by then Mote will have released its annual report detailing red tide mitigation strategies the city may want to explore. He added that the city should invite Mote’s associate vice president for sponsored research, Kevin Claridge, to speak on the matter.
Crane suggested deferring discussion until the next committee meeting.
Commissioner Robert Kingan seconded the motion, which was carried.
In other subjects
Municipal Commissioners also:
- Consensus reached to send draft ordinance amending city code on determining buildable area of a property to final second reading;
- Consensus reached to send for final reading a draft ordinance amending the comprehensive city plan to add an element of property rights in accordance with state law;
- We reached consensus to end discussions about drafting an ordinance that would prohibit certain landowners from dividing large lots in an effort to curb overdevelopment due to the risk of lawsuits under the Privacy Act. Private Property Rights Bert J. Harris, Jr. of the State.
The commission will then meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday, January 27 at City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive N. The meeting is open to the public with masks recommended. Instructions for attending via Zoom are available online at cityofannamaria.com.