Staff and volunteers deliver bagged, fossil shells and distribute them to build a reef.
Southwest Florida has witnessed tremendous urbanization in recent years. To accommodate this growth in population, resource managers have been forced to develop and manage watersheds (the regions where water drains from upstream), thereby compromising the habitat of aquatic organisms and impacting estuarine ecosystems downstream. These estuaries, (areas where fresh water meets salt water, such as in bays,) provide critical feeding, spawning and nursery habitat for ecologically and economically important species of finfish and shellfish, including oysters (Crassostrea virginica). Oysters are important commercial species commonly found in estuaries of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the U.S.. This project works to restore oyster reefs in SW Florida estuaries, through collaboration with community-based volunteers and several local, state and federal agencies.
Oysters perform important ecological functions in estuaries.
Newly created reef is visible in shallow water mangrove habitat. Oyster larvae, or “spat,” will thrive when they attach to these shell reefs they prefer.
They are highly efficient at filtering water and what they don’t consume is food for bottom dwellers. Oyster Reefs are essential refuge and habitat, promoting a heathy and abundant ecosystem for shrimp, fish and crabs which feed birds and mammals. Records from Southwest Florida suggest that oyster growth and distribution has decreased drastically since the 1960s.
The Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI) at FGCU and their partners are educating and involving the general public as well as high school and undergraduate students in a community-based restoration of oyster reefs. Located in the lower Charlotte Harbor estuary, and estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands in the Western Everglades, oyster reefs have been created in the Caloosahatchee River / lower San Carlos Bay, Estero Bay (Lee County), and
Henderson Creek (Collier County).