Volunteers install man-made oyster reefs in Tampa Bay

03/09/12 Liz McKibbon
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Oyster habitats benefit the overall Tampa Bay estuary. A group of volunteers and a local nonprofit are creating structures for new oyster communities to thrive in the Bay near Riverview. The group bagged more than 8.5 tons of fossilized shells at the Shultz Nature Preserve today.

About 50 volunteers arrived at Williams Park boat ramp this morning at 9:00, ready to provide helping hands to create new man-made oyster beds. Volunteers were from a range of ages, with a mix of first time volunteers and return contributors. Adam Hage regularly volunteers.

“Well we’re cutting mesh for the oyster bags. It’s pretty cool. Actually. You cut these bags, put the oyster shell in them. And then, next thing you know they’re in the water, and you get to come back a year later and check them out again, and see how much they’ve grown.”

Each oyster bag holds about 40 pounds of fossilized shells, from a local shell mine. The mesh bag is wrapped around a tube of PVC pipe and shell is shoveled into each of the tubes. The pipe is then removed and the bags are tied off at each end. Kevin Misiewicz is the project manager for this oyster reef. He is an environmental scientist with the nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch.

“The project that we’re working on, out here, is part of our CORE program, it’s Community Oyster Reef Enhancement, and we do two different things, we create oyster shell bars and we also create oyster domes, which are concrete structures that are used in high wave energy areas and more urban settings like sea walls. The project that we’re working on today, our oyster shell bars, are used in more low wave energy areas and more natural settings. We’re working along the Shultz Nature Preserve shoreline, and because it’s a preserve and a more pristine area, we want to use a more natural looking structure.”

Misiewicz says these structures create a hard bottom habitat. Oyster larvae settle on these areas on and grow into adults, which support the Bay’s wildlife and overall ecosystem.

“Once the oysters mature, they can actually filter, a fully mature oyster can actually filter about 10 gallons of water per hour. So the more live, adult oysters we have in the Bay, the more filtration is going on. But it does two other things also, in addition to natural biological filtration, it actually helps to slow or even prevent erosion along shorelines, and it also creates habitat. Tons of different fish, crabs, birds… love to use these oyster bars as a home, as a food source, as shelter.”

Don Roberts is with CCA, Coastal Conservation Association, which also teamed up with Tampa Bay Watch.

“Our mission is to protect the resource, which is the fishery, and also to represent the recreational angler, to get a balance between the recreational angler and the commercial interest as well. And we want to make sure there’s fish for us to catch for our children and our grandchildren.”

Tampa Bay Watch also has programs in place to teach future generations about conservation and environmental science. Martha Gruber is in charge of the Bay Grasses in Classes program, which works with middle and high school students.

“Salt marsh is an intertidal species, it grows in between the high tide and the low tide, and it helps control soil erosion, filters storm water run-off, and provides a nursery for juvenile fish, crabs and shrimp, and we have our students that grow the grasses on school property and then they get to take them out to a restoration site and plant them.”

Tampa Bay Watch volunteer registration

This workday was part of Field & Stream's "Hero for a Day" program, which recognizes the importance of conservation and encourages people to get involved in local habitat restoration projects.

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