■ SUBMITTED BY THE GICIA
The Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association has announced that the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection permits, both of which are necessary for the construction of the Mercabo Cove Project, have been issued.
“This gives us the green light to schedule the official groundbreaking for March 1, 2020,” said GICIA President Bruce Carbonari.
This project, which will transform the basin area of the Mercabo Preserve into a marine sanctuary, will provide long-term benefits including improved water quality, enhanced fish and bird habitat, reduced seawall maintenance costs and enhanced aesthetic appeal.
The GICIA’s preliminary vision for the Preserve was to purchase the property to prevent impactful development at the gateway of Boca Grande. Through the community’s generosity, the GICIA was able to close on the property in January of 2016. Once purchased, the GICIA began to transform the 30-acre site into a natural sanctuary for native birds and wildlife.
During the first year of ownership, demolition of the nine buildings on the property was completed and eco-restoration plans for the site began. That summer more than 3,000 native trees, grasses and shrubs were planted, which resulted in the GICIA being honored as the 2017 Grand Award winner of The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association’s Florida Friendly Landscape TM Awards.
With the uplands phase of the restoration successfully completed, the GICIA turned its attention to the basin, now called Mercabo Cove. Conceptual plans for an innovative project that would significantly improve the water quality while increasing habitat were presented at the 2018 GICIA annual meeting. The plans include removing seawall caps and existing sidewalks and placing the crushed concrete in front of the remaining seawall panels. When used in this way, the pieces of concrete are called riprap, which provides habitat for juvenile fish and substrate for oysters to settle upon. It also helps to reinforce the remaining wall. In other areas, reefballs (dome-shaped concrete structures) will be installed and mangroves will be planted. Mangroves stabilize shoreline sediments, filter upland runoff, buffer wave action and provide habitat areas for a variety of life, including endangered and threatened species such as the small- tooth sawfish.
Working with a fisheries biologist and coastal engineer, the GICIA has been able to incorporate design elements that will improve water quality and enhance habitat. One of these elements is the construction of a tidal creek that will allow water to flow freely in and out of the currently closed basin system, significantly improving water quality in the entire cove. The second is the creation of a small area designed to mimic a shallow tidal pool, which the GICIA foresees being utilized by both juvenile snook and tarpon. Finally, the cove plans include the addition of clean fill that will reduce water levels. The shallower, cleaner water should improve the likelihood for the successful reintroduction of seagrasses. Once completed, Mercabo Cove will be a marine sanctuary for birds, juvenile fish, dolphins, turtles, manatees and the federally listed small-tooth sawfish.
The estimated cost of this project is $2 million, and once complete it will be the final piece in the eco-restoration efforts on this parcel. The GICIA has already secured $1.3 million from within the organization and from previous directors. With a groundbreaking set for March 1, they are hopeful that this innovative restoration project will draw interest and support from the entire community.
If you are interested in learning more about the project or you would like to make a contribution, call the GICIA at 964-2667.