Two of the Conservancy’s oyster reef restoration projects in Texas are providing crucial data for large-scale restoration efforts elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. These initial efforts are critical to rebuilding severely depleted oyster reefs in the region, a loss that threatens fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and weakens natural protection from hurricanes and tropical storms.
The initial results of the Conservancy’s Copano Bay project illustrate the possibilities for successful reef restoration and how to further improve the process. A report issued by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies revealed that oyster colonization is indeed happening at Copano Bay, but that unusually high water salinity as a result of prolonged drought is slowing the process. The report also indicates that reefs constructed with more vertical surface will lead to higher survival rates—a finding that is already being taken into account on other projects throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Further north up the coast, a restoration project at Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve is being used as a model for similar work in Alabama and Louisiana. Using data gleaned from the Mad Island project, the Alabama and Louisiana chapters of The Nature Conservancy secured nearly $7 million in combined funding in 2009 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to reinforce miles of eroding shoreline in those states.