By Val Schoger, Photos Courtesy of St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association (RMA)
– – For generations, Florida’s waterfront has attracted visitors, investors, and homebuilders. ‘Waterfront’ is one of the most sought after denominators for coveted real estate. The proximity to beach, river, lake, bay, or bayou guarantees the multiplication of a property’s value.
As a waterfront owner, sooner or later the force of nature will be something to reckon with. It might be a pelican that loves to sit on your dock or boat or it might be the next storm that destroys structures or visibly erodes land not protected by vegetation. The natural force of wind and waves cannot be stopped, just like the erosion to properties that are bare of vegetation.
Bay County waterfront homeowners are becoming aware of their receding landlines and that there are other solutions than the construction of costly and unsightly seawalls and addition of riprap. According to the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Handbook (published by the Department of Environmental Protection and the University of Florida), seawalls and riprap can cause erosion to neighboring properties.
Waterfront owners will find a wealth of information through the St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association‘s Living Shorelines program where landowners, community volunteers, and RMA partners come together “to provide natural, more effective methods to abate shoreline erosion.” Local schools are involved and students participate in the “Bay Grasses in Classes” program and actively help with the restoration of natural shoreline vegetation where erosion or other problems are apparent. The Living Shorelines project leader is Jonnie Smallman.
RMA, a volunteer-based organization with a skeleton staff of only three part-time employees and hundreds of volunteers, has conducted water quality measurements since 1990 with their Bay Watch program. It is an ongoing effort to make Bay County a better place to live. Bay Watch provides comprehensive information on water quality.
RMA is also the local authority for the Turtle Watch program, ensures the safety of turtle nests on the beach and it also conducts the local seagrass bed monitoring and mapping program. Another effort is the volunteer-based hatching, raising, and release of scallops into St. Andrews Bay.
“Water quality is the foundation of our economy. You can restore marsh grasses but if the water quality is not good enough to support the habitat, all efforts will be in vain,” says Patrice Couch, Director of St. Andrew Bay Watch. The program actively involves the community, she explains. “We currently have funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the nursery program and work in partnership with teachers and students from Deane Bozeman School and UF/IFAS Extension Bay County. We raise the native Smooth Cordgrass plants and use them in our shoreline stabilization efforts in West Bay.”
Jim Barkuloo, a former field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Panama City and current St. Andrew Bay Watch water quality program coordinator and member of the board of directors, knows that West Bay is an area of historically unstable water quality where underwater seagrass has been dying. “While this can not be attributed to just one factor, Mike Brim, one of the founders of RMA, addressed the sewage discharge methods in the Panama City Beach area with local government leaders and since 2011, there is a new awareness for the need to protect our waterways. Sewage discharge methods were analyzed and reconsidered. RMA pointed out the problem and helped find solutions.”
Other industries and groups such as the Port of Panama City, call on RMA for assessment and independent advice in regard to planned projects. Data from RMA are used by local, state, and federal agencies to make informed decisions about the management of the aquatic resources of St. Andrews Bay.
Funding comes from grants, membership dues, and donations. RMA’s water quality programs received a huge boost in 2007 when they were given a legislative appropriation from the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Panama City businessman and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Alan Bense played a big role in successfully allocating the funds to RMA. “The funding was calculated to last us five years but we invested wisely and are frugal and made it last for seven years,” Jim Barkuloo remarks. “RMA has currently applied for more funding that is needed to ensure the continuation of the monitoring program.”
Data from 1990 to 2016
According to the St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association’s Baywatch Program, the analysis of data collected from 1990 to 2006 indicates and references high turbidity, count of chlorophyll and phosphorus, Secchi depth and dissolved oxygen. While is a high number of areas with bad indicators, there are several conclusions that can be made to the improvement of the water quality. To stick with the good news, the RMA found several areas to be potentially improving in some parameters, including Secchi depth in Upper Watson Bayou, Upper Massalina Bayou, Upper Burnt Mill Creek, and Lower Warren Bayou. Dissolved oxygen levels improved over time in Massalina Bayou and Lower Watson Bayou. Nitrogen levels also improved over time in areas of Lake Powell.
More on RMA
RMA members have the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities. From beach cleanups to shoreline restoration projects, to monitoring of natural resources, or simply raising awareness of local environmental issues, they always welcome new members and participants in activities.
Contact: Patrice Couch, Director, St. Andrew Bay Watch
St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association Inc. (RMA)
P.O. Box 15028
Panama City, FL 32406
Office: (850) 326-1140
Steps For Conscious Waterfront Living
Provided by Patrice Couch, Director
St. Andrew Bay Watch, St. Andrew Bay Resource Management Association Inc. (RMA)
Preserve or maintain natural shoreline. Do not remove or cut down the trees, shrubs, and plants that are naturally adapted to growing along the shoreline. Their removal will accelerate erosion because the roots of these plants hold the soil in place.
Create a maintenance-free buffer zone of at least 10 feet wide between the manicured landscape and the waterfront. Remove non-native plant species. Then choose native plants that are adapted to grow in the dynamic conditions of the shoreline environment (wind, waves, tides, salt spray, flooding). Do not mow, fertilize, or apply pesticides in this area. The plants growing in the buffer zone will help filter pesticide and fertilizer runoff from your yard before it reaches the water.
Avoid installing hard structures such as seawalls which sever the natural connection between land and water, reduce water quality, and destroy wildlife habitat. Hard structures can also accelerate erosion to adjacent properties from increased wave energy. If hard structures are necessary to protect property, consider “softening” the structure using native plants such as marsh grasses that can grow on the waterward side of the structure.
Pick up pet waste from your yard to prevent fecal bacteria from entering the water and do not throw grass clippings or yard waste in the water.
Check with local, state, and federal agencies before doing any work in the water as work below the mean high water line often requires a permit.
Hire only licensed landscape professionals as they are certified in the proper application of fertilizers and pesticides. Contact Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS Extension Bay County for guidance.1
1Julie McConnell, Extension Faculty, Horticulture UWF, Bay County 850-784-6105 firstname.lastname@example.org 2728 E. 14th Street Panama City, FL 32401-5022
Julie’s Educational Programs are focused on providing support for gardening programs with focus on preserving natural resources in North Florida with information on Best Management Practices for Home and Commercial Landscapes. Another program teaches, informs, and provides technical assistance to homeowners and landscape professionals with methods that promote Florida Friendly Landscaping and Green Industry Best Management Practices.
Resources for the checklist:
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