September 4, 2013

Island University Researchers Restore Eight-Acres of Oyster Reef

Photo: Texas A&M University

Photo: Texas A&M University

Researchers from the Department of Life Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies placed thousands of pounds of crushed concrete, rock and oyster shells in Aransas Bay and Copano Bay on Friday, August 30, in hopes that oysters will make their homes there.

“We put down the foundation, the building blocks, that small larvae oysters need to create new generations of oysters,” said Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology.

The project is coordinated by Pollack and Gail Sutton, Assistant Director of the Harte Research Institute as part of the “Sink Your Shucks” initiative.

Using barges, they worked to expand the current oyster reef in Aransas Bay adjacent to Goose Island State Park and in Copano Bay with oyster shells collected from local restaurants. This project is funded by the Coastal Conservation Association, Gulf of Mexico Foundation, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While only about 15% of the world’s oysters reefs remain, Pollack says the Gulf of Mexico waters are in better shape than many areas when it comes to oyster populations. This is good news for the state of Texas, where oysters are big business. Aside from their purpose as a food resource, oysters also provide a lot of benefits to coastal ecosystems.

“As they eat they filter pollutants, waste, heavy metals, and things that can degrade our water quality,” said Pollack. “This helps to create cleaner, clearer bay waters.”

Oyster reefs also provide habitat for small fish and crustaceans, who are prey for larger sportfish. Pollack describes the oyster reefs they built as 12 mounds of complex habitat, 12 inches high, and 20-30 yards long.

“We are building them in this way to create a habitat that sportfish can swim around,” said Pollack. “So we are trying to benefit not only the oysters, but the other organisms that could utilize it as well. “

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Jennifer PollackAransas BayCopano Bay