Recently, a 12-person team of Nature Conservancy staff and volunteers, including eight DuPont employees, spent a Saturday morning fishing in Bay St. Louis in the Gulf of Mexico. The fishing expedition was a methodical research project designed to test the ecological benefits of a 15-acre oyster reef restoration site created by the Conservancy and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) this spring.
Using four boats, researchers fished for four hours on a rising tide, taking turns casting their rods on and off the reef. Results proved encouraging as 113 fish (including 69 white sea trout) were caught on the newly created oyster reef and 61 were caught off the reef.
“This is what we were hoping for,” said Mike Murphy, coastal field representative for The Nature Conservancy in Mississippi. “The main reason for this oyster reef restoration work is to create habitat for a diversity of fish and other aquatic species and to encourage the natural regeneration of other oyster reefs, which help to improve water quality.”
When oysters spawn, the larvae they produce attach to a nearby solid surface, usually another oyster shell. Over generations, this process can form oyster reefs several feet in height that help to protect against coastal erosion and storm surges.
But decades of over-consumption, pollution and declining habitat has decimated the once massive oyster reefs that dominated the estuaries of every coastal state in the contiguous United States. Globally, scientists estimate an 85 percent decline of native oyster reef habitat. (Read more in the Shellfish at Risk Report)
In Mississippi, the Conservancy is working with partners to restore this vital part of the coastal ecology. In 2006, the Conservancy teamed up with the Mississippi DMR to create a 2-acre oyster reef restoration site in Bay St. Louis by using water jets to blow oyster shells off of a barge within a marked area. In addition to the 15-acre site created this spring, the Conservancy has worked on similar projects at two other Mississippi sites — at Biloxi Bay and Grand Bay.
Learn more about the Conservancy's efforts to restore shellfish habitat in other coastal states.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.