BAY COUNTY — The white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico may get all the attention, but St. Andrew Bay is Bay County’s most important resource.
So says Christina G. Cantrell, program director for St. Andrew Bay Watch, the nonprofit organization that has been monitoring water quality in the bay since 1989.
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In fact, St. Andrew Bay is one of the most unique of Florida’s estuaries, Cantrell said.
“It lacks input from any major river system but does receive fresh water from numerous creeks, bayous and wastewater treatment plants. Therefore, it is very salty and fairly shallow,” she said. “The restricted amount of fresh water allows the influence of Gulf of Mexico water through the Pass near Shell Island to dominate the bay.”
For many people, the natural resources of Bay County are chief among the reasons they moved to the area in the first place. Polluted water, over-developed shorelines, poor stormwater and sewage runoff all threaten the marine experience so many treasure, not to mention their livelihoods.
“Nature is an interdependent web that includes you and me and the bay. St. Andrew Bay is at the heart of our county and we need to keep it strong,” said Charissa Thacker, marketing manager for Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort, who is a Bay Watch volunteer. “The maintenance we do on our house, on our cars, on ourselves is no different than the maintenance we need to do for our waterways.”
St. Andrew Bay Watch has been monitoring the water quality in the St. Andrew Bay Watershed since 1989, and supports several related programs such as Turtle Watch, Seagrass Monitoring and Restoration, Living Shoreline Restoration and the St. Andrew Grasses in Classes Program.
Cantrell pointed out that, not only do locals and vacationers enjoy recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing and swimming, but drinking water comes from Deerpoint Reservoir, which is part of the St. Andrew Bay Watershed. Protecting healthy watersheds can reduce capital costs for water treatment plants and generate revenue through property value premiums, recreation and ecotourism, Cantrell added.
“A healthy bay system provides opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing and ecotourism. Millions of people in the U.S. fish recreationally and commercially, and these anglers generate lots of jobs and billions of dollars annually to the economy in federal and state tax revenues,” she said.
In addition to keeping track of the health of local waters, St. Andrew Bay Watch members pride themselves in providing the local community with hands-on environmental education programs. The “Grasses in Classes” program, for instance, works with Bay County students and local volunteers restoring and monitoring living shorelines along the bay. A recent Living Shorelines project involved building a reef of oyster shells as a habitat in North…