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“area of critical county concern”
|From The Observer News(www.observernews.net)|
Campaign Underway to Create Cockroach Bay Sanctuary
Aug 7, 2008 - 8:58:49 AM
Ruskin - Gus Muench has a good half dozen reasons for fighting for the Cockroach Bay Sanctuary.
They’re all sound, but one of them is the most compelling of all reasons for consideration: the window of opportunity is closing and, once closed, will be nailed shut.
It’s this conviction that is driving the commercial fisherman, a Tampa native who relocated his young family nearly 40 years ago to the south shore of the Little Manatee River, to wage what he thinks of as his personal version of Charlie Wilson’s War.
Unlike the hard-partying Wilson, a Texas congressman whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering helped bring America to the aid of Afghanistan and ultimately was considered key to collapse of the Soviet Union, Muench is neither a party hardy type nor a conspirator. But he relates to the frustration and diminishing options portrayed in the 2007 film.
The clock is ticking for the Cockroach Bay area, its habitat, its wildlife, its marine life, its historical significance, Muench says. To halt the damages resulting from careless, uncontrolled human uses, he wants about five miles of eastern Tampa Bay shoreline from Sand Key on the north to the Manatee County line at the south end - with Cockroach and Little Cockroach Bays at about midline - designated a Hillsborough County Sanctuary. It’s the best way left, he says, to save the South County asset. Nothing else has worked, he asserts.
Muench’s “war” opened last December. During the intervening months, he has presented his case for the sanctuary to the county’s Environmental Protection Commission composed of county commissioners, plus to other agencies, and to newspaper editors up and down the Florida west coast. He’s anticipating a meeting with EPC staff to discuss the fine points of his proposal in the near future. Next week he plans to outline the concept for an interested Pinellas County legislator.
His concept is simple. Give the sensitive shoreline and island-dotted Cockroach Bays the “special” designation of sanctuary, elevating the area to an extraordinary status. Enable creation of a single Technical Advisory Group (TAG) composed of the several public agencies which have ownership interests in the area: the Tampa Port Authority, the county parks and recreation department, Hillsborough’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, Hillsborough Community College and the county commission. Encourage the TAG consisting of representatives of the various agencies to develop a cohesive sanctuary management program.
Such an advisory body also might include delegates from Audubon of Florida, Manatee Awareness Coalition, the Agency on Bay Management, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Hillsborough’s Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee and the general public, Muench adds. Each of them, he notes, would have an interest in the sanctuary.
This approach would centralize and realize consistent management of the wetlands and uplands which comprise the prospective sanctuary, the fisherman emphasizes, eliminating a fragmented or nearly non-existent approach prevailing today.
That management planning just might be the last chance to protect an area that now is being damaged by careless boating on a daily basis. More than half of the sea grass beds in the proposed sanctuary area have been scarred or damaged by boat propellers and attempts to impose a slow speed zones to protect the habitat and the marine life have not been successful, Muench says.
What’s more, the sanctuary approach requires no dedicated funding at a time when most public agencies supported by tax dollars are strapped for cash resources, Muench notes.
As for benefits, they are multiple, Muench points out. The TAG management plan could rule out use of motors on vessels within the sanctuary, allowing those boaters to move through it by electric power or by poling and trolling. This, in turn, would stop destruction of the sea grasses that serve as nursery habitat for so many types of fish and crustaceans.
At the same time, the management plan could encourage use of canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized boats to enjoy the sanctuary as a non-threatening recreational resource. Such activity would further support Ruskin as an eco-tourism destination, Muench predicts.
Then, there are the benefits to be reaped by the varied wading bird populations, along with the large raptors known to frequent the area. The wading birds feed regularly in the flats at low tide and roost in shoreline trees, only to be startled and disturbed by speeding power boats. In addition, Osprey have been sighted in the proposed sanctuary, Muench says.
The sanctuary also could protect habitat for several mammals and reptiles, he notes. Gopher tortoises and Indigo snakes, both endangered species, inhabit the uplands portions, along with fox and even bobcat, he adds.
But the advantages of the sanctuary designation do not end with habitat protections. Establishing such a specific wetlands and uplands site under a single TAG would make grants for environmental and historical projects easier to obtain, Muench suggests.
And the historical significance of the area should not be overlooked, he cautions. It long has been known the area was home to Pre-Columbian Indians who left many remnants of their cultures and was, as well, the site of a landing of the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1539.
However, time is not unlimited, Muench asserts. Massive development is approaching from both Manatee County to the south, South Hillsborough to the north and sections of the South Side to the east, he notes. Many of these newcomers will want to use the water resources in their back yards, he suggests. In the mid -1980s, a maximum of eight boats were launched into Cockroach Bay daily. Today, that number has climbed to about 100 daily, he adds.
The time to protect and preserve the Cockroach Bays area for future generations is now. Muench says with emphasis. “If nothing is done now, I don’t think the sea grasses will come back. And that means the habitat will be lost. And that means the fisheries will be lost. And that means we will have frittered away something we were given to take care of. ”
©2008 Melody Jameson
© Copyright 2008 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing