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Manatee County to use oysters in fight against red tide

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) - As red tide continues to ravage the region, Manatee County commissioners are enlisting some help to fight back. They're using oysters and clams.

The mollusks eat red tide and filter out the water.

Red tide is a toxic algae bloom that kills fish, causes respiratory problems and scares off beach goers.

This bloom has lasted for 10 months and no one knows when it will end.

"It’s just really upsetting when you see all the fish and the marine life just washed ashore,” said County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino.

“It’s horrific. What is going on in our waterways,” said commissioner Betsy Benac.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County Commission announced an expanded partnership with a nonprofit called "START," or Solutions To Avoid Red Tide.

The county is providing more than $2 million of BP oil spill money to place new oyster and clam beds in the waters in and around Manatee County.

"They live for 30 years, that's a long time to be working in the bay, and yes they do eat red tide and they are very unsusceptible to its effects,” said START chairman Sandy Gilbert.

This area used to be filled with oyster beds. Officials say back in the 1800s, the Manatee River was nicknamed "Oyster River." However, the massive oyster beds were eventually removed for food or as cheap fill to create roads.

“The thing about oysters is, we lost about 90 percent of them here. And you would probably say, 'oh you probably lost them because the water’s polluted.' No, that’s not why we lost them. We lost them because we dug ‘em up,” explained Gilbert.

For the past year, START has been monitoring some newly laid oyster beds in Robinson Preserve. They have been very effective in filtering the water.

START is also partnering with local seafood restaurants to take their used oyster shells and plant them in new beds.

Over the next month, START plans to place hundreds of thousands of new oysters and clams into area waters.

"We know it's a public health issue and we'll work very hard to minimize the effects of it,” said commissioner Carol Whitmore.

“You can’t ever get rid of red tide, but you can figure out ways to minimize it.”

This is a long term project that will not only fight back against red tide, it will also improve fish stocks and strengthen our shoreline. 

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