New Charlotte Harbor Oyster Reef is Flourishing

-Nature Conservancy of Florida

-Conservation Restoration Efforts Working

Oyster Reefs provide critical, life-sustaining habitat that allows water quality to improve, fishes, birds and underwater life to grow and survive and procreate.  Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Florida, efforts are working in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda. NCF Photo
Oyster Reefs provide critical, life-sustaining habitat that allows water quality to improve, fishes, birds and underwater life to grow and survive and procreate. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Florida, efforts are working in Charlotte Harbor near Punta Gorda. NCF Photo

By Forrest Fisher / Nature Conservancy of Florida

Oyster Reefs provide life-sustaining habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve water quality.  The Nature Conservancy in Florida is committed to restoring oyster reef habitat in coastal areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico, the Charlotte Harbor Estuary located in Punta Gorda was a priority location.

The Trabue Harborwalk project is a first step in reestablishing the oyster populations that previously flourished throughout this estuary, but have declined to just a fraction of their historical extent.  Oysters, birds, and other wildlife signal successful habitat restoration along Trabue Harborwalk, near Punta Gorda, Florida.

This pilot project, the first in the northern portion of the Charlotte Harbor estuary, includes the creation of 9 oyster reefs using 3 different restoration methods – oyster mats, oyster bags, and loose shell. These methods are being tested to better understand which method works the best in building new reefs. The results of this science-based experiment will inform future planned restoration of oyster habitat in the estuary.  NCF Photo
This pilot project, the first in the northern portion of the Charlotte Harbor estuary, includes the creation of 9 oyster reefs using 3 different restoration methods – oyster mats, oyster bags, and loose shell. These methods are being tested to better understand which method works the best in building new reefs. The results of this science-based experiment will inform future planned restoration of oyster habitat in the estuary. NCF Photo

Nature itself is one of the largest pieces of the climate solution puzzle. “Oysters are the quiet unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other wildlife,” says Anne Birch, Marine Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida.  She further asserts, “When we help to restore and conserve oysters back to their once thriving populations we’re also helping our estuaries and our coastal communities flourish.”

A healthy one-acre reef filters approximately 24 million gallons of water daily, supporting underwater grasses and other plants that need light to survive underwater. These plants, in turn, yield additional benefits, like fish production and carbon storage, completing something of a virtuous cycle.

The Nature Conservancy Florida, City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, and a number of community volunteers completed the installation of reef habitat to attract and support new oysters.  Once abundant throughout Charlotte Harbor, oyster reefs provide habitat for important fish and shellfish such as mullet and blue crabs.  Oysters also improve water quality, and may help to stabilize shorelines by reducing erosion from wave and tide action.  One goal of the project is to determine which of three reef building techniques is the most productive and effective for increasing oyster populations and attracting additional species to the area — information critical to the broader goal of expanding oyster restoration throughout Charlotte Harbor to support communities and fisheries.

Partners in the creation of new oyster reef habitat in the shallow waters along Trabue Harborwalk in Charlotte Harbor, Florida, have accomplished great success.  Up to 1,400 oysters per square meter have taken up new residence on sections of the reef.  In just nine months following the creation of the habitat along the coastline of Punta Gorda, a community of diverse wildlife has appeared, anchored by arrival of the new oysters.

Oysters require specific water conditions to flourish and hard surfaces on which to settle.  The nine newly created oyster reefs are spread over nearly four acres and include three reefs composed of oyster shells affixed to mats, three reefs of fossilized loose shell, and three reefs built from mesh bags containing fossilized shell.  Approximately 50 tons of shell were used to build the reefs. Monitoring results indicate that oyster recruitment was excellent for each method.  A success criterion for a recent oyster reef restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay area was greater than 50 oyster recruits per square meter –- the Punta Gorda reefs far exceeded this benchmark.

Click here to see a poster about the life cycle, habitat and restoration of the Eastern oyster.

This project is funded by the generous support of The Mosaic Company Foundation, Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and individual donors. “We are tremendously pleased to see the oyster reef restoration project thriving,” said Mark Kaplan, Mosaic’s Vice President – Phosphate Services and President of The Mosaic Company Foundation. “We value our partnership with The Nature Conservancy and are proud to support their commitment to improving coastal habitat and water quality in Charlotte Harbor.”

The Nature Conservancy continues its commitment to restoring oysters in coastal areas throughout Florida and will use data collected here in the planning of additional habitat restoration in the Gulf of Mexico, including a future project in the Pensacola region.  The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.  Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit www.nature.org/global.  To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.