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GTM NERR Initiates Community Reef Building Project

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's GTM Research Reserve is partnering with the local community to build living reefs with discarded oyster shell. The project is funded by a $150,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) awarded to the Friends of the Reserve support organization at GTM. The two-year project will restore 1,000 feet of eroding shoreline in the Tolomato River at Wrights Landing in St. Johns County.

With the help of biologists and volunteers, St. Johns Technical High School students are learning "hands-on" restoration science beginning this month by constructing an artificial reef with shucked oyster shells provided by local restaurants. In addition to preventing wave energy from further eroding the shoreline, other benefits of the reef will include water filtering, thus improving water quality, and protecting important archeological sites on the Guana Peninsula. Students will be active in the program with volunteers throughout most phases, and will ultimately become "acting researchers" by monitoring the reef, conducting vegetation and marine species analysis, and conducting water quality testing.

The oyster-shell recycling program is spearheaded by Lauren Flynn, GTM Oyster Restoration Coordinator. Three project phases are planned: 1) start an oyster-shell recycling program; 2) construct the artificial reef; and 3) plant marsh grasses.

Flynn is working with restaurant staff to properly discard oyster shells for this project. "I'm happy to report we have 5 restaurants that include oysters on their menus participating in the program," says Flynn. "I am now training their staffs in the proper protocols for discarding oyster shells for reef building."

Historically, large oyster beds inhabited a lush marsh at the now eroded riverbank. In time, live oysters will return, settle in, and continue building the reef, thus further protecting the shoreline from excessive wave action caused primarily by boat traffic and high winds. Once restored, oyster beds and marsh grasses will again serve as habitat for permanent and transient marine species such as anemones, fish and crabs.

"I'm so excited about the opportunity to partner with the GTM Research Reserve on this project," said St. Johns Technical High School (SJTHS) Principal Wayne King. "Our vision here at SJTHS is to provide opportunities, through Project Based Learning for our students to apply knowledge. The Oyster Reef Restoration Program will help create awareness and provide a legacy for our students." King added that students will get real-life training and skills from the project.

A variety of opportunities are available for interested volunteers to assist with this multi-faceted program. Flynn holds informational sessions on various duties that will arise in differing stages of the operation, and will continue to train new volunteers through the life of the project. This project affords the opportunity for many types of volunteers for jobs including:

  • Making weekly runs in GTM Research Reserve vehicles to participating restaurants.
  • Picking up discarded oyster shells and replacing them with fresh bins.
  • Delivering the shells to an isolated area within GTM Reserve and for quarantine for 90 days until fully cleansed and purified.

When the shells are ready, students and volunteers will measure, cut and fill hundreds of pounds of shells into mesh bags, and deliver them to the eroded shoreline. On site, lines will form to hand the bags along for placement in arrangements specifically designed for reef building.

GTM Reserve is actively seeking volunteers willing and able to commit to a regular schedule for the collection runs or to take on other volunteer duties. Anyone interested should contact Lauren Flynn at the GTM Research Reserve Education Center, 904-823-4500.

The GTM NERR Community Oyster Shell Recycling and Living Reef Restoration Project is funded by a SARP/NOAA (Southeast Aquatic Research Partnership and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) Community Based Restoration Grant awarded to the Friends of the GTM Reserve.

Living Shoreline Site Map

Living Shoreline and Oyster Reef Restoration Site Map


Last updated: April 13, 2012

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