Amy Smith-Kyle (above) is among the Conservancy staff instrumental in the oyster reef restoration work at Vermilion Bay and Grand Isle.
Restoring the Gulf of Mexico. The Atchafalaya River flows into Vermilion Bay in southwest Louisiana. Here, at the National Audubon Society's Paul J. Rainey Sanctuary, The Nature Conservancy is working to restore a total of 3,050 feet (.58 mile) of oyster reefs that have been built from stackable concrete rings 5 feet in diameter. Constructed and placed by Wayfarer Environmental Technology, the rings are designed specifically for the soft substrate within Vermilion Bay.
The project consists of three phases. Phase I began in April, 2010, and was approximately halfway complete at the time of the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the ensuing oil spill. Staff and contractors resumed and completed Phase I, which included 660 feet of reef, in September 2010. Phase II, which includes 1,700 feet of oyster reef, began in June 2011 and Phase III, which includes 690 feet of reef. These phases were completed by the end of 2012. In addition to providing habitat for wildlife and growing oyster, the rings are projected to build and protecting existing marsh along its length.
The oyster reef restoration at Vermilion Bay is one of two such projects in which the Conservancy is involved at Louisiana. A second project is taking place at Grand Isle and the St. Bernard Parish marshes, located about 130 miles west of Vermilion Bay.
This demo project, funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Shell Marine Habitat Program, and with matching private funds, is designed to determine whether or not the height of a reef impacts changes to shoreline and the quality of habitat for marine organisms. Historically this location provided ideal conditions for oyster reef formation, but has become fresher in recent years.
Louisiana State University has completed two years of monitoring the success of this project by measuring reef establishment, shoreline changes and improved habitat for other marine species. More monitoring will take places as funding becomes available.