Oyster Reef Restoration

Avani Maharaj, Staff Writer

Oysters are enjoyed by many people, but erosion and overfishing are causing oyster populations to plummet to historic lows.

Oyster reefs play an important role along Florida’s coast, supporting estuaries through water filtration, providing habitat and food for other fish and stabilizing eroding coastlines, according to The Nature Conservancy.

“Oysters are the quiet, unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, and feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp, and other wildlife,” TNC Florida Ocean and Coasts Strategy Director, Anne Birch, said in an article in The Nature Conservancy.

In some conditions, one oyster is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water in a day. This cleaner water plays a role in creating a clean environment for bottom-dwelling marine life and plants.

In recent years, the oyster population has seen a significant decline, and over the past two centuries, 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have diminished, according to The Nature Conservancy. As these reefs continue to drop in population, initiatives are being taken by conservation organizations toward oyster reef restoration in the Pensacola region.

“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,” according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The FDEP has partnered with Keep Pensacola Beautiful to collect shells locally that are used in restoration projects.

The Nature Conservancy and its partners also embarked on a project that created 33 oyster reefs along the Santa Rosa County shoreline, with hopes of increasing the oyster population in an area in which they were known to do well.

Over the next couple of years, the oyster reefs will be monitored to ensure that the oyster population is growing and that other species are coming to the area. The hope is that the new oyster reefs will become established, and the oyster population will return to its previous numbers in the Pensacola area.