Visitors turn out as Manatee Parks join World Oceans Day for first time

Participants at the World Oceans Day Festival wade into the water off the shoreline of Emerson Point Preserve to observe tiny creatures living in the sea grass beds. This is one of the activities at the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department event on June 3. CARL MARIO NUDI PHOTOS

An estimated 8 million tons of plastics are dumped into the world’s oceans each year. On June 3, both adults and children gathered in Manatee County to learn how to save a most valuable resource.

By CARL MARIO NUDI

M[/dropcap/ore than 130 people attended the Manatee County’s Parks and Natural Resources Department first World Oceans Day Festival on June 3 in Emerson Point Preserve.

“We had 10 exhibitors,” said Melissa Nell, manager of the department’s programming/education/volunteer division, “And to get 10 the first year is exciting.

“Also, we’re excited to bring World Ocean Day to Manatee County   to our own community,” Nell said.

World Oceans Day is globally celebrated on June 8 to raise awareness of the benefits of a healthy ocean.

The environmental networking group, The Ocean Project, has been coordinating World Oceans Day since 2002, encouraging communities and organizations to hold festivals, events and programs that bring attention to the importance of oceans in our lives.

The theme for the 2017 World Oceans Day was Our Oceans, Our Future, and participants were encouraged to help find solutions to plastic pollution and prevent marine litter.

Nell said one of the division’s volunteer and education specialists, Coral(sic) Bass, pushed to hold the Emerson Point festival.

“We give our education staff a lot of freedom to follow their passion,” Nell said, “and last year Coral organized an estuary program at Robinson Preserve.”

“With June 8 being designated World Ocean Day we decided to do something,” Bass said. (And with a break between programs) “this was a perfect time to do a small festival.”

All of the exhibitors based their activities and literature around the national theme of plastic pollution and preventing marine litter.

“We want to emphasize the importance to cut down on waste,” Bass said.

Angela Collins, an agent with the Florida Sea Grants, a program of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, kept children busy with creating take-home crafts while she talked to the adults and handed out literature.

“Healthy fisheries provide a sustainable seafood source,” Collins said.

At another booth, Amy May, a volunteer and education specialist with the county parks and natural resources department, demonstrated a technique being developed to help restore oyster beds in estuaries.

“The Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista restaurants wash and clean their oyster shells and donate them to the project,” May said.

“They are then attached to an 18-inch by 18-inch plastic mesh mat where oyster spat attach to develop into adult oysters,” she explained.

May said pollution and over sediment from storm runoff have degraded the estuaries, and oysters are natural filters, helping to clean up the water.

“Oysters filter 50 gallons of water a day,” she said. “And hundreds and hundreds of oysters can make some really clean water.”

This demonstration was part of the Gulf Coast Oyster Recycle and Renewal Project.

“We’re trying this out to see how successful the mats are compared to the bags of oyster shells now used in the bay near Perico Preserve,” May said.

Many of the attendees were families with young children, and the exhibiters provided activities for children to learn about taking care of the ocean environment.

The Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club had cartoon-like drawings of manatee body parts, such as a head and flippers, which children can color and cut out, then attach to a paper bag to make a hand puppet.

But getting across the message of protecting the manatee to adults fell to volunteers Tracy McAlpine and her mother, Norma Kuehler.

Keeping the estuaries and Gulf of Mexico waters free of pollution is important for the health of manatees, McAlpine explained to one of the visitors to the booth.

Another exhibitor, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, asked visitors to be proactive in preserving the waters off the coastline of Manatee County.

Trash collected over a two-week period from one area of shoreline in Manatee County was on display during the World Oceans Day Festival at Emerson Point Preserve on June 3. An information poster states 8 million tons of plastic is dumped in the ocean every year.

“We are asking people to take a pledge to do something new, something that they don’t do regularly,” said Darcy Young, public outreach manager for Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

“Two have already signed up,” she said just after the festival started at 9 a.m. “One is going to volunteer with our organization, and the other one plans to start composting.

“Composting means less trash ends up in the bay,” Young said.

Not all the volunteers staffing the exhibitor booths were adults.

Maggie Carter, 13, has been volunteering with the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch program for three years, and was at the booth handing out literature, activity books and turtle “tattoos.”

“I love sea turtles,” said Maggie, who attends King Middle School, “and I’ve always lived on the island and always wanted to help the community.”

Suzie Fox, director of the turtle watch program, said she always partners with the county when it holds events such as the World Ocean Day Festival.

“We’re able to educate people about turtle nesting, Fox said. “We want healthy oceans for healthy sea turtles.”

One of the most popular hands-on activities was net dipping.

Participants waded out into the sea grass beds of Tampa Bay with dipping nets, scooped up tiny ocean animals and put them into a glass tank to study.

“This is exactly what scientists do to study the health of the ocean,” said Nell, who was leading the group of “scientists.”

The sea grass is a nursery for sea creatures,” she said, “and a very important part of the food chain.”

Another institution participating with exhibits and activities was the Florida Maritime Museum, located in the historical fishing village of Cortez.

Krystin Miner, curator at the museum, said healthy oceans and bays are important to the fishing families living in Cortez.

“It’s important to support the ecosystem,” Miner said, who had visitors solving a riddle using International Maritime Signal Flags.

Emerson Point Preserve was the perfect location to hold the festival.

It is a 365-acre park at the tip of Snead Island where the Manatee River meets the mouth of Tampa Bay.

The Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department-operated preserve allows visitors to experience Florida’s wildlife and native plants.

They can also explore the Portavant Temple Mound, Southwest Florida’s largest Native American temple mound.

The county natural resources department will be holding Eco-Art Camp and Sun and Fun Saltwater Fishing Camp at Emerson Point Preserve.

For more information on these and other summer camp programs, call 941-742-5923.

For more information on The Ocean Project organization, visit the website at www.worldoceansday.org.

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