Footprints in the Sand: Fish Trap Bay

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Bob Wasno is standing in his second floor office looking out the window at Fish Trap Bay. I can tell by the look in his eyes just how much he loves the view and how much he wants to preserve all of the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. Bob, or ‘the Waz’ as his friends call him, is the Coordinator of Marine Education & Outreach for Florida Gulf Coast University’s Vester Marine and Environmental Science Research Station. The facility is located at the southern end of Estero Bay just off of Bonita Beach Road.

The research station started as a fish house in the 1930’s. In the ’60’s a motel was added to the property which was razed in 1976 to make way for apartments. Norm and Nancy Vester purchased the property in 2006 and called it “Crackerville Resort.” In 2007 the Vesters gave the entire property to FGCU to establish the marine lab.

Waz became the coordinator in 2010 and oversees just about every aspect of the station. As he pointed out, this includes boat maintenance, patching canoes, keeping the research equipment humming, and making sure that the 4,500 students that use the facility each year have just what they need to work on their marine biology degrees.

I called Bob not long ago to ask him about a project the facility has been working on for the past couple of years. It’s called Rink 2 Reef. The name comes from a joint mission between the research field station and the National Hockey League’s Green Initiative to build oyster reef habitats from used hockey sticks. Bob said, “Man, I haven’t seen you in long while. Get yourself out here and I’ll show what we’re doing and we’ll also build a habitat while you’re here.”

Bob coached ice hockey at FGCU for seven years. He said that the disposal of used hockey sticks posed an environmental problem that really bothered him. Modern sticks are made of mostly non-recyclable graphite and when disposed of they wind up in landfills. He was pretty sure that they could be used for something else and that’s how the oyster habitat idea was born.

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Bob Wasno demonstrates how hockey sticks are transformed into oyster reef habitats. Photo by Capt. Rob Modys.

First, testing was performed on the materials needed to build the habitats. The hockey sticks proved worthy by not breaking down in saltwater and causing a pollution issue, and no screws or bolts are used for assembly. The entire habitat is held together with 900 pound-test monofilament fishing line.

The sticks are easily cut and drilled to create a framework for oysters to attach themselves. Eventually the host oysters release spat, (baby oysters) that grow on the frame. As the population grows, more and more spat is released and those small oysters also attach to nearby dock pilings and seawalls.

Why all this focus on oysters? The remarkable thing about them is they are fantastic filtration systems. Four-hundred oysters can filter 20,000 gallons of water a day. And here’s the really good news. They love to eat all kinds of algae.

In the shop assembly area I began the mission of building my very first Rink 2 Reef oyster habitat. When finished I had a sense of actually doing something that would greatly benefit the bay where I had spent many years as a fishing guide. I guess you could call it giving back.

Bob and his students at the Vester Marine Field Station are building and installing oyster habitats for both corporate and private dock locations. You can do your part to help Estero Bay and other local waterways by investing in Rink 2 Reef. For more information about this program go to www.rink2reef.com.

Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman, retired spin & fly fishing guide and host of REEL Talk Radio on ESPN 99.3 FM from 7-10 a.m. every Saturday morning. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association. Capt. Rob also shares his fishing knowledge in a series of fishing classes at Bass Pro Shops.