Fort DeSoto gets a new artificial oyster reef

07/21/11 Joshua Lee Holton
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This morning more than two dozen volunteers armed with shovels battled the 90 degree-heat at Fort DeSoto. They’re helping build artificial oyster reefs on the shoreline to help with water filtration and coastal erosion, while giving coastal birds and aquatic wildlife a new home.

While boaters can often be a threat to Florida’s wildlife, some people are actually getting in their boats to change the local environment for the better. Local environmental nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch has partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to lay down hundreds of feet of oyster shells, to provide a habitat for small fish, while restoring a hard bottom along the coast. Serra Herndon led a team of about 25 volunteers this morning to help with CORE, the Community Oyster Reef Enhancement program.

And these oyster reefs are not only good for the animals, but also for water quality.

The project funding is possible thanks to a $17,000 grant from the Gulf of Mexico Foundation. Martha Gruber with Tampa Bay Watch demonstrated how the oyster bags are made.

"These bags weigh about twenty pounds each, and hundreds of these bags will be needed to build the several hundred foot long reef. That’s more than ten tons of shells!"

Over time, these oyster reefs will become fertile ground for additional restoration.

Tampa Bay Watch volunteer Kevin Misiewicz says such marshes and mangroves are very popular homes among coastal birds.

And Serra Herndon says that even humans might be able to find food along the oyster bars too.

Usually Tampa Bay Watch would recruit up to 40 volunteers, but with the summer heat, it’s a bit harder to get folks to come out. But in the cooler seasons, these types of projects can draw nearly twice the amount of volunteers.

The Gulf of Mexico Foundation grant requires Tampa Bay Watch to lay down several hundred more feet of reef by August, so the group is actively seeking volunteers in the coming weeks.

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