Lessons in stewardship 

Environmental steward Peter Clark speaks to Rotary and SLA

Nationally recognized hero of a decades-long successful effort to restore Tampa Bay returns home to share his story
     The beautiful clean waters of Skaneateles Lake and the stewardship of local people inspired Peter A. Clark to grow up to become a hero of the decades-long effort to restore Tampa Bay. 

     He returned home to see his mother, Phyllis Clark of Skaneateles, and to share the remarkable story of how he started and led a successful environmental stewardship program that has used thousands of volunteers to bring Tampa Bay back to life

     As a guest of the Skaneateles Rotary Club Thursday, 3/14/19, Clark spoke to an audience that also included fans of Skaneateles Lake. Significantly, the audience included young Rachael DeWitt, the director of the Skaneateles Lake Association which is leading the charge to protect Skaneateles Lake.

     Like Clark, DeWitt grew up on Skaneateles Lake and found lifelong inspiration in its waters.
 “Hearing about the many projects that the Tampa Bay Watch is doing has inspired me to broaden some of the Skaneateles Lake Association's efforts to parallel the efforts they have successfully launched in Tampa,” DeWitt said.

     She could clearly relate to all Clark said.  The same lake inspired her to study water resources/aquatic ecosystems. “This beautiful body of water that we both call home enabled us to think beyond our selves and allowed us to choose water resources as an area where we could make a difference in the world.”
     Clark founded the Tampa Bay Watch in 1993 to restore and protect the Tampa Bay estuary using community volunteers.  Under his watch, the organization has coordinated more than 100,000 volunteers, installed 18,000 oyster reef units and 2,000 tons of oyster shell to create more than three miles of oyster shell reef communities, planted more than 1,000,000 salt marsh grasses to restore 200 acres of coastal tidal ponds to Tampa Bay. In 2005, Tampa Bay Watch completed construction of the $4 million marine and education center in Tierra Verde, Florida. 
     “We really loved our bay to death,” he said, explaining how the water quality “was so bad in the 70s and 80s that the beaches were closed off” and the environment couldn’t support fish life. The cleanup that started in the 90s focused on habitat restoration.  “We restore the habitat and then the habitat cleans the water,” he said.
      A most important focus has been “getting our youth involved,” he said.  Eighteen middle school and high schools in the region grow grasses that they later help plant in the salt marsh. The salt marshes that had eroded from costal development and other forces are now thriving.
     On a daily basis, boats full of students are taken out on the water. They aren’t just seeing aquatic life: they are participating in restoring it.  They are working alongside environmentalists and volunteers.  Some of the students have never been on the water before. “We are empowering children to be lifelong stewards of Tampa Bay,” he said.
     Tampa Bay has faced Red Tide, a “cousin” algae to what Skaneateles Lake has seen the past two summers, in part due to human impact. The algae in the bay and the lake thrive on nutrients that run off the land into the water.  
     The Rotary meeting featuring Clark was held inthe recently refurbished Skaneateles American Legion Post 239’s upper room. The local legion post is celebrating its centennial. 
     In the 1970s, Clark moved to Tampa to work as an environmental planner for the Agency on Bay Management. Until 1993, Mr. Clark served as Director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Agency on Bay Management, an alliance of agencies charged with protecting the Bay.  Mr. Clark has a BS in Marine Biology and over fifty professional publications on natural resource restoration, water quality and environmental planning.   Mr. Clark also initiated the nomination, which ultimately led to the designation, of Tampa Bay into the EPA's National Estuary Program.  Mr. Clark holds a US Coast Guard Master Captains License, received the Outstanding Environmentalist of the Year award from the Florida Marine Research Institute Environmental Excellence Awards program in 1994, and the NOAA Fisheries / American Fisheries Society Nancy Foster Habitat Conservation Award in 2005.
Tampa Bay Watch 
Tampa Bay Watch performs habitat restoration and protection activities throughout the year, relying heavily on the efforts of community volunteers to help the bay recover from its historic environmental problems. Individuals of all ages from community groups, scout troops, schools and others participate in salt marsh plantings, storm drain markings, oyster bar creation, coastal cleanups, and wildlife protection each year, demonstrating environmental stewardship in its purest form. In addition to the volunteer habitat restoration projects, Tampa Bay Watch has a large-scale environmental education program entitled “Estuary EDventures” in which students in grades Kindergarten through 12 throughout Tampa Bay visit the Tampa Bay Watch Marine Center for hands-on educational experiences. The efforts of Tampa Bay Watch to restore and protect the bay's habitat through stewardship and community awareness provide effective long term improvements to the bay, and empower our community with the knowledge to counteract our environmental problems. 
by ... Lori Ruhlman