Between gunshots and chainsaws, a habitat gets a haircut

Cheryl Johnson, left, and Patrice Jackson at the McKay Bay observation tower - now with a better view of the surrounding habitat that it's had in a long time thanks to the invasive-species removal efforts of volunteers from TECO and elsewhere.

TECO’s Cheryl Johnson, left, and Patrice Jackson at the McKay Bay observation tower – now with a better view of the surrounding habitat that it’s had in a long time thanks to the invasive-species removal efforts of volunteers from TECO and elsewhere.

If only clearing more than 14,000 pounds of invasive plants was as easy as giving someone a haircut. But the former is exactly what happened along the banks of McKay Bay in Tampa on March 31 – and rows of shoreline mangroves can breathe easier now.

It was the latest collaborative effort between TECO and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful (KTBB), not far from where TECO team members previously refurbished an oyster bar to boost the heath of marine life. This time, the work was exclusively land-based and included participation from the city of Tampa’s Parks & Recreation Department and the Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management Department.

After several hours of labor-intensive work to remove habitat-damaging plants including the lead tree – the aforementioned 14,000 pounds of them, along with about 300 pounds of trash – native mangroves were visible once again from the McKay Bay Greenway, a popular path for runners, walkers and bicyclists. While the volunteers carved away at highly invasive lead trees with chainsaws, the ongoing pop of guns for target practice at the Tampa Police Academy next door made for an interesting – at times surreal – environment.

The before shot: Note the amazing amount of invasive vegetation in the frame, as well as the pedestrian trail to the left.

The before shot: Note the amazing amount of invasive vegetation in the frame, as well as the pedestrian trail to the left.

“Our volunteer efforts in the community are always unique and this was no exception,” said Stan Kroh, manager of Land and Stewardship Programs with Tampa Electric’s Environmental, Health & Safety team (which was joined by the company’s Real Estate team in the activity). “The best thing is how visible the volunteers’ achievement is at the end of each event. In this case, the native plant and bird life will be better off in this very important habitat in Tampa Bay.”

Christina Arenas, M.A., environmental program manager with KTBB, agreed with Kroh and thanked the volunteers for their hard work.

“I’m impressed – you can actually see the bay again!” she said. “Healthy mangroves help filter the water for the organisms that live in it and serve as key parts of the food chain. When invasive species like the lead tree invade an area like this and go unchecked for a while, they choke out the natural species. At some point, people need to step in and help, and the volunteers did a great service for this habitat and for the community overall.”

And after: with the trail to the left, a massive amount of invasive vegetation has been cleared out.

And after: with the trail to the left, a massive amount of invasive vegetation has been cleared out.

She added that as part of what KTBB encourages (along with volunteerism and other things), homeowners should be on the lookout for invasive species – and be sure to never introduce them into the environment.

Kroh said that among all those invasive plants, the volunteers felt right at home.

“It’s incredibly satisfying to be outside, doing work to improve the health of a habitat, and enjoy the camaraderie that comes with it,” he said. “This is an incredible group of dedicated volunteers that takes real pride in putting in the time and hard work to help ensure that natural Florida is something the entire community can continue to enjoy.”

Join TECO for some ongoing and upcoming fun activities! First, there’s still time to visit Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center before its 30th anniversary season ends April 15. Then, on April 22, join us at Lowry Park for EcoFest 2017 in celebration of Earth Day!

 

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