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Oyster Restoration

Volunteers loading a trailer with buckets filled with oyster shells during last week’s oyster restoration program sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation; photo by Jeff Lysiak.

Nearly two dozen volunteers recently joined the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s (SCCF) ongoing effort to restore oyster bed populations in San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay by filling hundreds of buckets of oyster shells and deploying them by barge into local waterways where a number of artificial reefs have been established.

Two large mounds of oyster shells collected from local restaurants were shoveled by volunteers into sturdy plastic buckets. One by one, the buckets were filled, carried onto a trailer, and then transported to Tarpon Bay to a waiting barge next to SCCF’s Marine Lab facility.

“We’ve been collecting oyster shells from restaurants like Timbers and the Lazy Flamingo since 2010,” said Dr. Eric Milbrandt, director of SCCF’s Marine Lab. “We get about 45 gallons of shells every week, and even more during the holidays, so there’s always a lot of shells for us to work with.”

According to Milbrandt, harmful freshwater discharges have resulted in losses of oysters and seagrasses in the Caloosahatchee Estuary. Deploying oyster shells on newly created artificial reefs will help re-establish critical estuarine habitats of shellfish and submerged aquatic vegetation beds.

“What this will do is allow the oyster larvae to attach to it and grow along the reef,” Milbrandt explained. “Once you get a few of them to attach that way, they begin to attach to each other.”

Among the benefits of helping restore eastern oyster populations are the formation of intertidal reefs in the local estuary, providing a habitat for fish and invertebrates, stabilizing shorelines and preventing erosion. Additionally, SCCF is hoping the artificial reefs will become living classrooms used as research platforms.

The oyster restoration initiative, started by SCCF with shell deployments in Clam Bayou, has seen phenomenal success over the years. More than 100 cubic yards of oyster shell has been deployed thus far, with 54 barge loads used to disperse the shells. As a result, seven complete oyster reefs comprising approximately four acres have been created in areas like San Carlos Bay and Tarpon Bay.

“Because we’ve seen so much success with this effort, we want to expand the habitat from a quarter of an acre for each reef to a full acre,” said Milbrandt. “If we hadn’t started this program, these oyster shells would just go into the landfill, so it’s also beneficial that we’re returning them to nature.”

Thanks to our friends at the Island Sun for this story!

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