■ SUBMITTED BY THE GICIA
If you have noticed some activity at the Mercabo Preserve site, that’s because the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association (GICIA) is in the preliminary phase of transforming the basin area of the Mercabo Preserve into a marine sanctuary. Last week several loads of reinforced concrete pipe (RCP) were delivered to the site and will be used as part of a complex and innovative project that is scheduled to begin in March. Goals for this project include long-term benefits such as improved water quality, enhanced fish and bird habitat, reduced seawall maintenance costs and visually enhanced views of the Preserve site.
The Mercabo site was once the home of Mercury Test Center. In 2016, GICIA purchased the 30-acre parcel which housed nine buildings, including dry boat storage, conference center, office and small hotel, room for 185 wet slips, and 4,700 feet of seawalled bay frontage located at the entrance to Gasparilla Island. GICIA’s initial restoration efforts included demolition of the buildings and removal of all asphalt surface, removal of all invasive exotic vegetation and finally the planting of more than 3,000 native, trees, shrubs, and grasses. To put the crowning touches on the ecorestoration of the site, we are now gearing up to begin restoration of the existing basin area, which consists of a dredged and completely armored L-shaped area that is highly visible from the causeway.
Working with consultants and engineers, we have developed a plan that utilizes innovative methods for stabilizing the existing seawall while also softening its appearance, reducing maintenance costs, enhancing habitat and improving water quality. The different methods that will be used are reefballs, rip rap and in deeper areas planting mangroves in RCP planters. Planting mangroves along strategic sections of seawall provides many benefits, such as stabilizing shoreline sediments, filtering upland runoff, buffering wave action and providing habitat areas for a variety of life, including native birds, sport fish like tarpon and snook as well as endangered and threatened species such as the small-tooth sawfish.
GICIA’s Mercabo Cove restoration project includes the installation of approximately 120 RCP pipes of different sizes. The pipe will be installed vertically along the face of the seawall so that the top of the RCP extends out of the water. Soil will then be placed inside the pipe, and the mangroves will be planted. As the mangroves grow, their extensive root system will climb over the tops of the pipe, eventually completely covering the pipe and the seawall. GICIA is pleased that Alex Feliciano of the Rinker Plant in Fort Myers has agreed to donate the pipe that does not meet their stringent standards but will work nicely for our project.
Once completed, Mercabo Cove will be looked to as an example of an environmentally friendly, cost-effective alternative to armored shorelines. The GICIA is pleased to announce that we have secured $1.6 of the $2M needed to complete this exciting project. With the groundbreaking set for March 1, the GICIA is hopeful that this innovative restoration project will draw interest and support from the entire 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 this exciting project or would like to make a contribution, please contact the GICIA office at 964-2667.