Saturday, March 27, 2004
Floating excavator restores marsh
By ANDREW LYONS
ORMOND BEACH — The Tomoka Basin’s bottom is thick black muck — eight-feet deep in some spots.
So hauling equipment and doing any work in the middle of the basin is nearly impossible.
For years, the county’s mosquito control team has wondered how to remove old dredge deposits above the marsh surface and stop the breeding of salt-marsh mosquitoes. Such a project would not only kill the insects that travel up to 30 miles, but provide a shallow habitat for fish to hide from predators.
Now they can, with a 30-ton excavator that floats.
Officials with Volusia County Mosquito Control said they’re the only mosquito team in Florida using a long-arm excavator for environmental work. Lately, the yellow beast has been scooping up spoil mounds created 50 years ago by other mosquito workers to control insects.
“The bottom muck is so soft, we’d probably sink up to our neck,” said Charles DuToit, biologist at Tomoka State Park who’s assisting in the project. “But with the 60-foot arm, it can reach just about anything.”
Over the years, invasive vegetation such as shrubs and cedar trees has grown on the mounds, and the manmade channels have become less effective in preventing mosquitoes. Since November, the excavator has been leveling 170 acres of the basin’s dredge deposits and creating new marsh and a safe place for fish, crabs and other crustaceans to thrive.
The excavator creeps carefully around marsh that is not only environmentally sensitive, but also historically significant.
The restoration area is believed to have once served as rice fields. From 1763 to 1783 they were owned by Richard Oswald, a wealthy Scotsman who served as a British peace negotiator at the end of the Revolutionary War.
The environment appears scarred right now, but the native vegetation is expected to return in a year or two.
“Get it at the right elevation,” said the mosquito’s environmental specialist Glen-Paul Edson, “and nature will take care of the rest.”
The county bought an excavator a year ago and found it so useful, officials bought another one for $350,000 about six months ago. The excavator is so popular, officials from Indian River County have asked to use it for a similar project.
It’s part machine, part pontoon and all muscle. With a boat, mosquito workers can push or pull the excavator across water to the marsh spots where it’s then driven.
Next month, the machine will be sent north to Bulow Creek State Park where it will work to open a creek pathway that is filled with sand from the Korona Canal. Moving the excavator long distances is not so simple.
A crane must be used to pick it up or place it in the water. Three tractor-trailers are then needed to move the disassembled machinery across roads at a cost of $10,000 a trip.
But mosquito officials said there’s no way of estimating its value.
“If you had a regular machine, how would you get it out?” Edson asked. “You’d have to put it on a barge and somehow get it out there.”
Did You Know?
Rice once grew on the Tomoka site now being restored, but Florida’s agricultural history under colonial rule dates back to the 1500s with Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery and eventual settlement of Florida:
Early colonial Spanish agricultural efforts included the planting of oranges. Sugar cane was also introduced to Florida by Ponce de Leon.
Under British control during the mid 1700s, plantations along the St. Johns River grew rice, sea island cotton, indigo and oranges.
Plantation agriculture — with crops such as tobacco and corn — was introduced in the early to mid-1800s in the Panhandle and northern counties.
Compiled by news researcher Karen Duffy. SOURCE: University of Florida