A new Nature Conservancy project aims to rebuild oyster reefs that can withstand hurricanes, floods and over-harvests.
The Gulf of Mexico is about to house a new species of oyster reef in its waters.
In November, Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental conservation program, launched a unique restoration project that will build a 60-acre reef in Copano Bay, an estuary on the Gulf Coast of Texas, north of Corpus Christi. Oysters have long existed in the bay, but years of over-harvesting, floods, hurricanes and drought have brought their populations to collapse. A new conservation report, released Wednesday, outlines the entirety of this damage.
Unlike most oyster restoration projects, which are built solely to protect decreasing oyster populations, this serves two purposes. Half of it will be a permanent home for the shells, while the other half will be harvested.
This duality reflects the dynamics of oysters in Texas' environment, economy and culture.
Much has been said about how oysters use marine ecosystems. They are filter feeders, meaning they filter pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus out of the environment they call home. Oyster reefs also serve as natural breakwaters, meaning they can break strong waves and protect shores from erosion. Other animals such as crabs, shrimp and fish have a preference for oyster reefs, and the structures become a habitat for all types of underwater life.
But also oysters are a big part of the heritage and identity of Texas. [1
The eastern oysters account for 70% of the American oysters harvest and the Gulf Coast accounts for 80% of sales and generates $ 1 billion annually in revenue .Oyster farms in the Gulf were opened in the year In 2015, 17 million pounds of oysters were harvested, according to NOAA's most recent report (NOAA)
In recent years, however, the industry has been hit repeatedly by one disaster after another over the past decade oysters had to contend with algal blooms hurricanes and more According to the report of Wednesday the oyster populations of the Gulf States are between 50 and 85 percent In April, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department banned the oyster crops in Copano Bay because their populations were too low em: The restoration project could not have come a moment too early.
The funding comes from the Natural Resource Trustee program, which provides money for projects to tackle environmental damage from oil and chemical spills – and they are in the Gulf .
The restoration of the reef in the bay of Copano is already in the preliminary stage. Limestone is currently mined in Missouri, where it is transported along the Mississippi to the coast. It is then placed in the water, then recycled oyster shells are poured onto the structure. As we reported adult oyster shells are the preferred surface for baby oysters that attach and grow.
The hope is that these new structures will not only restore oysters in the region, but will build a reef that can withstand the catastrophes of the future, such as storms, droughts and floods.
"The population of oyster populations and natural reefs did not recover as expected in all the conditions that affected them," says Verdone. "The introduction of the limestone is really cumbersome with the restoration efforts to ensure that it will be successful in the future."
The project at Copano Bay will serve as a guide for future restoration projects. The Nature Conservancy plans to pursue another hybrid reef at Galveston Bay, the largest in Texas.