Stories in Louisiana

Louisiana's Oyster Reefs

Protecting and Restoring Our Gulf Coast and Waters

The sun sets over calm waters and an adjacent marsh.
Oyster Reef The West Cover oyster reef is located in Louisiana. © JCW Creative

Delicious delicacies. Habitat heroes. Coastal protectors. Phenomenal filterers. Oyster reefs provide a myriad of ecological and economic benefits in Louisiana.

Oyster reefs were once so plentiful along the Gulf Coast that ships had to navigate around them. Today, they represent one of the most imperiled marine habitats on the planet, having lost 85% of their range. This is attributed to a variety of factors including water pollution flowing from inland rivers and streams, overharvesting, dredging and more frequent and intense storms.

While Louisiana has fared better than many other parts of the world, oyster reefs remain critically reduced. Losing healthy oyster reefs means losing the important benefits they provide to estuarine plant and animal species, coastal communities and local economies.

Natural Solutions

A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.

  • A brown and white bird with a long orange beak rests near a marsh.

    Creating Habitat

    Establishing healthy oyster reefs provides critical habitat for a variety of marine species. In fact, our staff has witnessed a newly built artificial oyster reef come alive almost overnight. Reefs are also important nursery habitat for juveniles.

  • Several people operate machinery situated on a body of water.

    Enhancing Fisheries

    In addition to being important wildlife habitat, estuaries are critical to commercial and recreational fishing. This industry fuels the local economy, with one out of every 70 jobs in Louisiana attributed to commercial fishing.

  • A row of submerged oyster cages wind across a waterway.

    Safeguarding Shorelines

    Oyster reefs enhance water quality, buffer and stabilize shorelines to prevent erosion, slow wave energy, and protect billions of dollars of infrastructure and the livelihoods of those who live and work along the coast.

Restoring Oyster Reefs

Even though oyster reefs have declined in the Gulf of Mexico we still have an opportunity to restore and sustainably manage them. The Nature Conservancy and partners are collaborating to rebuild oyster reefs across the Gulf, and Louisiana is one of the most viable places for oyster reef restoration.

Using a variety of materials—like metal gabion baskets filled with limestone and concrete and rebar structures—these artificial reefs invite oyster larvae to settle and grow and provide the same benefits as naturally occurring reefs.

The Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter monitors TNC’s oyster reefs across the coast and consistently finds strong oyster recruitment, survival and growth. Existing reefs—both natural and artificial—have also had a positive effect in slowing shoreline retreat. At many reef sites, LSU AgCenter on average found 50% less shoreline erosion behind the reef sites compared to sites without healthy reef habitat.

A map highlights places along the coast of a land area in Louisiana.
Louisiana Oyster Projects As of 2024, TNC created nine miles of oyster reef habitat along Louisiana’s coast at Vermilion Bay, Grand Isle, St. Bernard marshes and Calcasieu Lake. © The Nature Conservancy

Building Coastal Resilience

TNC’s efforts to restore oyster reefs and salt marsh along the coast benefits wildlife and provides protection from storms, sea-level rise and erosion. TNC’s most recent project benefits vulnerable areas in Southwest Louisiana, including Sabine National Wildlife Refuge and portions of Hwy 27, a major evacuation and emergency services route for coastal communities.

Water covers a collection of oyster shells.
Oyster Reefs Seeded oysters can be seen below the water. © Scott Breschkin