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Last updated: January 24, 2013

Northwest District DEP Northwest District - Oyster Restoration Program DEPQuick Links

Oyster Reef Restoration

Grassy Point Oyster ReefOyster reefs are built primarily by the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. Oyster reefs are built via the successive reproduction and settlement of larvae onto hard structures such as existing oyster reefs, pilings, rocks, downed trees and recycled oyster shell. Thus, with continued settlement and subsequent generational growth, oysters may form massive reef structures in estuarine systems.


Oysters are filter feeders, they uptake food and oxygen by pumping massive amounts of water across their gills. One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a 24 hour period!! While feeding, oysters take in viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, algae, sediments and chemical contaminants found in the water column.  This efficient biological filter increases water clarity by reducing sediment loads and promotes increased water quality by removing chemical contaminants and potentially harmful microorganisms from the water column. Oyster reefs also function as wave breaks and offer shoreline protection from storm events. By breaking powerful wave energy before it reaches the shoreline, oyster reefs play an important role in reducing shoreline erosion.


Historically, the Pensacola Bay System (PBS) supported abundant oyster reefs and was a sustainable commercial harvesting area. In the late 1960s – early 1970s (EPA 2005) the PBS suffered severe environmental degradation due to rampant discharges of industrial and residential affluent into the Bay. By 1971 a die-off of over 90% of commercially harvestable oysters occurred due to disease as a result of poor water quality. Since then, strict environmental regulations have been implemented to improve water quality in the system which, along with salinity and temperature regimes, suggests that the PBS “could be a very productive oyster harvest area” (EPA 2005). The EPA (2005) sites lack of suitable substrate as a major factor in the slow recovery of oyster populations in the area.


Oyster reef restoration is essential to returning our estuaries to the thriving ecosystems they once were.  The Ecosystem Restoration Section of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection utilizes recycled oyster shell from several partner restaurants in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties as a hard substrate for oyster reef development. Currently the oyster restoration team has funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, NOAA and Florida Coastal Management to restore/create several inter-tidal reefs throughout the Escambia and Santa Rosa watersheds. 

Keep Pensacola Beautiful - Oyster Reef Restoration Partner

Since 2011, we have partnered with Keep Pensacola Beautiful (KPB) to collect discarded shells from area restaurants. ERS selects sites for the for restoration utilizing these recycled shells. Funding to KPB is through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company (Gulf Power is the local subsidiary).


For more information, contact: Beth Fugate

Additional Information


For more information, contact: Beth Fugate




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