ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) - The idea of clarifying a tiny sliver of Tampa Bay so people can see what lives there may not be as far-fetched as some believe.
On the other hand, the doubters may be right.
"We're going to determine whether or not from a scientific standpoint this is an element that's going to go forward or not," said Raul Quintana, one of the city of St. Petersburg officials overseeing the design of a next-generation downtown Pier. "We're not discounting it, we're saying let's study it a little bit more, see if it really makes sense."
The so-called underwater garden is one of the key concepts to a design known as The Lens. As proposed, some of the casons of the current Pier approach would be left in place, below the surface of the water.
Those would be used to support elevated oyster and seagrass beds.
"Oysters do have a really strong affect on water clarity. So they're natural filters," explains USF College of Marine Science biologist Dr. Ernst Peebles. "Most oyster beds are in shallow water, so the key would be to provide the oysters with shallow habitat. And that would be an artificial substrate of some sort."
Clearer water would open a window people want to peek through.
"You always look in the water," St. Pete resident Connie Harder agreed. "I'm always looking for dolphin and fish, but you can't see anything" because the water is murky.
Chris King, an avid fisherman making a delivery to Pier businesses Monday said "There's a lot of larger fish living around this Pier than people actually know about."
Dr. Peebles confirmed bait fish always cluster around marine structures, so their predators follow.
Even so, "Expectations have to be realistic" he cautioned. "You're not going to have gin-clear water and a colorful coral reef all of a sudden in Tampa Bay."
The scientist also said nature will be unpredictable.
"There will be days when people say, well I didn't see a thing, and then there will be other days when people see things that will be memories that last a lifetime" Dr. Peebles said.
The underwater garden concept and other elements of the Lens will be explained to the public at a series of forums that start this week. Quintana acknowledged those meetings will be a two-way conversation.
City officials will attempt to explain a $50 million project that many people do not understand. Yet there is no final design, so public input is critical.
For example: "The Hub, which is the land component," Quintana said, "What would you like to see there, what are some of the things that would make this a better project? And for the portions going out over the water, we do want people to tell us how they would use it, and what are some of the things they would like to see that maybe aren't shown in the concept."
The architect selected by the city will use that information and present a final design by the end of the year. The current downtown Pier is deteriorating and will be closed May 31, 2013, and demolished.