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Florida Gulf Coast University

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Oyster Reef Restoration Project

Oyster Gardening

 
 

Oyster gardening is the non-commercial growing or farming of oysters by volunteers for subsequent transplanting onto restored reefs. The transplanted oysters help jump-start the population of the reef by serving as a localized spawning broodstock.  Reproduction of the transplanted oysters supplements natural spatfall (spawning) that arrives from other sources. Additionally, inter-breeding of transplanted oysters and settled oysters from the wild improves the genetic diversity of the oysters on the reef.  This may lead to improved growth and resistance to environmental stress. The program was first initiated in the Virginia / Maryland portions of the Chesapeake Bay in 1997 and has produced tremendous benefits in the form of community education and community involvement in reef restoration.

Volunteers are given seed oysters and are given an oyster gardener “kit” to get started. This consists of a Taylor float and a variety of instruments for recording oyster and water data.  A Taylor float is made from a rectangular frame of PVC pipe for flotation, with a wire mesh basket suspended from it. The float can be secured to a dock the same way one would tie up a small dinghy.  Using the Taylor float allows growing oysters near the surface of the water maximizing exposure to oxygen and phytoplankton (their food source), and helping produce big, healthy mature oysters for restoration. The structure of the garden also affords some protection from predators that can feed on young oysters. After several months in this environment, oysters should be ready for planting on sanctuary reefs.

Contents of a Taylor float  during one stage of gardening (above), oyster broodstock growing on bagged shell (left.)

 

Volunteer recruitment begins with outreach to local community organizations through seminars and oyster gardening workshops. Outreach efforts are focused on citizens that live on or near the water in areas favorable to oyster growth, which are easily accessible to them, such as their private docks.

Using Taylor floats is a good way of growing oysters, but it is not the only method. We encourage our gardener volunteers to explore and develop different ways to grow oysters, which may be more efficient or amenable to their area or property. In this way, efforts between the community and scientists at FGCU and the CWI are of mutual benefit to this important natural resource.