NOAA 2003-R125
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gordon Helm
4/25/03
NOAA News Releases 2003
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15 ACRES OF CRITICAL HABITAT RESTORED
AS PART OF SETTLEMENT FOR TAMPA BAY OIL SPILL

Almost ten years after three ships collided and spilled oil into Tampa Bay, citizens have regained 15 acres of wetland and upland habitat at Joe’s Creek along the shores of Boca Ciega Bay. Federal, state and county officials today declared the Joe’s Creek site fully restored and an example of the many restoration projects implemented under the Tampa Bay Oil Spill settlement.

Students from the nearby North Side Christian High School conducted a demonstration planting to illustrate how natural vegetation was restored to the area.

"For years, Pinellas County and managers have been partnering with state and local agencies to restore sensitive lands," said Pinellas County Commission Chairman Karen Williams Seel. "These 15 acres will make a beautiful addition to this vitally important habitat area along Joe's Creek."

Designed and co-funded by Pinellas County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), the Joe’s Creek restoration is one of many projects being carried out with funds recovered in 1999 to compensate for environmental harm caused by the 1993 Tampa Bay oil spill. The recovery was part of an $8 million settlement of public claims arising from the spill.

“Restoring this critical wetland habitat not only provides a haven for important wildlife, but also safeguards the water quality of Tampa Bay,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David B. Struhs. “Because of this partnership effort between federal, state and local agencies, another natural area of Florida is now better protected.”

The agencies acting to restore natural resources injured by the Tampa Bay spill include the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"Joe’s Creek is one of many restoration projects undertaken by NOAA and its co-trustees to address the natural resources harmed by this spill and is truly something to celebrate," said Bill Hogarth, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. "This kind of a cooperative effort among federal, state and local partners guarantees a healthy coastal environment for generations to come."

The Joe’s Creek restoration project was carried out to compensate for injuries to the water column and sediment caused by the spill. A historical wetland located in upper Boca Ciega Bay, the area was cleared of debris and invasive plant species while a nesting area for a bald eagle and existing stands of slash pine, cabbage palms and live oaks were preserved. Portions of the land were re-graded to flatten spoil mounds, create additional upland hammocks and to restore natural tidal flow to lowland marsh areas. Native upland and wetland vegetation was planted and mangroves are expected to re-colonize the area over the next several years. Roughly $132,000 of the Tampa Bay Oil Spill settlement funds plus an additional $134,000 provided by SWFWMD and $89,000 from Pinellas County were used for this project which provides valuable habitat for fish, shellfish, gopher tortoises and waterfowl.

In August 1993 three ships collided near the entrance of Tampa Bay. The collision released an estimated 330,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, several thousand gallons of jet fuel, diesel and gasoline into Tampa Bay, injuring natural resources, including birds, sea turtles, mangroves, salt marshes, sea grasses, and shellfish beds. In 1999, the state of Florida, the federal government and the vessel owners reached a settlement which provided funds to implement restoration projects for natural resources damaged by the oil spill.

The natural resource trustees also received $2.5 million to address lost recreational uses of about 13 miles of beaches in Pinellas County, affected waterways and shellfish beds. Federal and state agencies sought input from the public on projects which would address these losses and selected 14 projects which are now completed or currently underway. Chosen projects include the creation and upgrade of two fishing piers, eight walkways and dune walkovers, one boat ramp and a passive beach side park. The trustees anticipate selecting additional projects soon be selected to restore sand loss due to response activities.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:

NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov

NOAA Fisheries: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov