Former Overgrown Fish Farm Transformed Into Natural Oasis


Ekker Preserve, top, before restoration. At bottom, the restoration project after completion of the final grading.

A tropical fish nursery that was dominated by nonnative plants and mosquitoes was recently converted into a maturing 23-acre wetland habitat for many native species.

The wetland habitat is part of the 85-acre Ekker Preserve in Gibsonton. The District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program recently completed construction of the preserve, in cooperation with Hillsborough County. As part of the project, the District removed 23 acres of Brazilian pepper and replaced it with a wetland habitat. The Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department then selectively harvested pine trees from surrounding uplands to restore the area to a historic pine flatwoods community.

By removing invasive plants and restoring wetlands, the District was able to help improve the quality of water flowing into nearby Bullfrog Creek, which eventually leads to Tampa Bay.

“The result is a much-improved habitat for local wildlife,” said District project manager Mike Dalsis. “The restoration project is early in its development, but so far we have observed many species of birds, including limpkins, roseate spoonbills, hooded mergansers, ibis, red-shouldered hawks, great blue herons, whistling ducks, sandhill cranes and ospreys, utilizing this new preserve.”