The $106,000 will support the group's clam restoration work.
Sarasota Bay Watch has received its largest-ever grant.
The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation donated $106,000 to the group with the expressed purpose of aiding “efforts to clean and restore Sarasota Bay by harvesting native clams,” according to the General Grant Terms, Conditions and Understandings.
Based in Sarasota, “The Foundation’s mission is to promote meaningful changes in the areas of education, humanitarian causes, arts and culture, the environment, and medical research,” per its website. Sarasota Bay Watch is an environmental organization that looks “to assure the sustainability of Sarasota Bay, its stakeholders and all its inhabitants,” its website reads.
Rusty Chinnis, chairman emeritus and one of the founders of Sarasota Bay Watch, said the group was excited about receiving the grant.
“It gives us a lot more credibility, it gives us a lot more visibility, and a lot more tools that we need to advance this project,” he said. “The idea is to eventually have enough clams in the bay that they can self-replicate.”
Clams help improve water quality through their natural ability to filter water, often softening the blow of red tide by taking in toxins. Sarasota Bay Watch formed in 2008 essentially in response to red tide.
"These bivalves are crucial to Sarasota Bay’s ecosystem and water quality," the group's website reads. "A single littleneck-sized clam can filter 4.5 gallons of water a day."
So where will the grant money go?
$53,000 of the grant is going to a professional clam farmer, Chinnis said, who helps Sarasota Bay Watch grow clams until they reach a size to release into the bay.
$20,000 has been spent already on 250,000 clam spats, which are baby clams that haven't yet developed shells.
$11,500 finances underwater equipment such as clam cover netting and stakes. Clam netting protects the clams from predators.
$10,000 will be spent on growing clams on leased underwater land in Pine Island Sound, near Fort Myers. Once clams reach the correct size, Sarasota Bay Watch picks them up from the farmer. This can be an hours-long transportation process and involves multiple partners.
$7,500 will be paid to hire a professional clam farmer as a consultant and project leader to seek a submerged-land lease to raise clams in Sarasota Bay, with the goal of eliminating the trip from Pine Island Sound, The group hadn’t done this before because the waters in Sarasota Bay aren’t suitable for harvesting shellfish to eat, but the plan for these is to harvest them for restoration and mitigation, not food.
$4,000 of the grant is for web services, social media, community education, outreach and similar objectives to raise awareness around clam restoration, seek additional investors and keep people updated on the group's work.
Chinnis also told the story of how Sarasota Bay Watch attained the money. During a fundraiser for the group last year, Teri Hansen, president of the Barancik Foundation, was in attendance. She admired Sarasota Bay Watch’s mission, and eventually the group made a presentation to the foundation for a grant.
With its speakers’ bureau, Sarasota Bay Watch constantly makes itself available for engagements and presentations for anyone or any outfit interested in what it’s doing, Chinnis said.
“A lot of people sitting in these condominiums looking out at the bay, they want to be able to give back and do something,” Chinnis said. “We’ve got a good place for the money, I think.”