Oyster Reef Restoration
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.
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
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