Preconstruction and other activities planned at Mercabo Preserve

December 27, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

Excitement is building around the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association’s Mercabo Cove Restoration Project, which is set for groundbreaking on March 1st. As we enter the preconstruction phase of this exciting project, don’t be surprised to see activity on and around the site as material is being delivered and construction surveys and other studies are being completed.
During the next several months, as we prepare for groundbreaking, passersby may notice a variety of activity. Some of this activity will be construction material being delivered. Some will be the marine engineers doing surveys related to actual construction. Some will be marine biologist conducting studies.
First, the GICIA has engaged fishery biologists to survey the basin area to determine the best approach for the acoustic tagging study that GICIA will initiate with the help of Mote. Ultimately, the goal of this study will be for GICIA is to determine how habitat use patterns of sport fish such as tarpon and snook or the endangered smalltooth sawfish are affected once the Mercabo Cove once is restored. During discussions with biologists    regarding the acoustic tagging study the GICIA was made aware of the basins merits; such as size, location, depth etc. making it an ideal location for other current studies. So, when several renowned research facilities requested permission to utilize the basin to conduct locally important studies that could benefit our local coastal communities, the GICIA authorized such use but only up until the restoration begins. The GICIA will continue to provide information on such research as it becomes available.
The Mercabo Site was once the home of Mercury Test Center. With the generous support of the Boca Grande community,  the GICIA was able to close on the parcel in early 2016 and add it to the over 250 acres of Land Conservancy property they already own on and around Gasparilla Island.
When purchased the site housed nine buildings including dry boat storage, conference center, office and small hotel, tennis courts, room for 185 wet slips, and 4,700 feet of bay frontage.
The GICIA began its restoration of the site by razing the nine buildings, removing the asphalt parking areas and tennis courts, eradicating the invasive exotic vegetation and planting over 3,000 native, trees, shrubs and grasses.
The final ecorestoration phase of the site will be turning the existing basin area, which was formally used as an industrial marine site when owned by Brunswick and operated as the Mercury Outboard Motor Test Facility, into a marine sanctuary.
The area involved in the restoration is the L-shaped canal that is highly visible from the Causeway.
The GICIA has secured $1.6 of the $2 million needed to complete this exciting project, and hope that the increase in activity at the site will boost awareness, interest and support from the Boca Grande Community.
The GICIA is extremely proud of The Preserve Site, the restoration of the uplands and the soon to begin Cove project. If you are interested in learning more about uniqueness of the smalltooth sawfish and the acoustic tagging study, please mark your calendar for January 6 when GICIA will sponsor a Community talk by local biologist at 4 p.m. in the Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium.
If you would like to visit the site there are eight guided tours scheduled for early 2020. These tours will be lead by GICIA Volunteer Tour Leaders and will focus on the restoration efforts of the site.
The tours will be limited to 15 guests per tour and the dates are set for January 6 and 23, Feb. 3 and 20, March 9 and 26 & April 2 and 13. Tours will begin at 9 a.m. and reservations are required. GICIA members and donors to Mercabo Preserve and the Cove Project will be given priority when booking these  limited tours.
If you are interested in learning more about this exciting project, would like to sign up for a tour, or make a contribution, please contact the GICIA Office at (941) 964-2667.