The Nature Conservancy in Florida is committed to restoring oyster reef habitat in coastal areas throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and the Charlotte Harbor Estuary located in Punta Gorda is a priority location. The Trabue Harborwalk project is a first step in reestablishing the oyster populations that previously flourished throughout this estuary but have declined to just a fraction of their historical extent. Oysters, birds, and other wildlife signal successful habitat restoration along Trabue Harborwalk.
Nature itself is one of the largest pieces of the climate solution puzzle. “Oysters are the quiet unsung heroes of our estuaries, working hard every day to protect our coasts, clean our waters, feed and shelter fish, birds, crabs, shrimp and other wildlife,” says Anne Birch, Marine Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. She further asserts, “When we help to restore and conserve oysters back to their once thriving populations we’re also helping our estuaries and our coastal communities flourish.”
A healthy one-acre reef filters approximately 24 million gallons of water daily! Supporting underwater grasses and other plants that need light to survive underwater. These plants, in turn, yield additional benefits, like fish production and carbon storage, completing something of a virtuous cycle.
Healthy oyster reefs are critical to our coastlines and provide many benefits, including improving water quality and reducing coastal erosion from wave and tide action. Laura Geselbracht, Senior Marine Scientist for the Conservancy states “not only do oysters sequester carbon, they help to protect mangrove forests that do the same, naturally reducing greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere and combating climate change.”
Oyster reefs also help create healthy ecosystems that support fish populations and attract other wildlife.
This pilot project, the first in the northern portion of the Charlotte Harbor estuary, includes the creation of 9 oyster reefs using 3 different restoration methods – oyster mats, oyster bags, and loose shell. These methods are being tested to better understand which method works the best in building new reefs. The results of this science-based experiment will inform future planned restoration of oyster habitat in the estuary.
Enthusiastic volunteers of all ages helped to construct the oyster mats and oyster bags needed to build reefs.
Volunteers also assisted in unloading materials in the water and constructing the reefs.
In total, 1,286 individuals donated more than 2,800 hours to the project including materials assembly, reef installation and monitoring.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on September 28, 2015 to celebrate the completion of the newly installed oyster reef habitat. The project was made possible because of the generous support from the community and our key partners, who joined us in the celebration including: the City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves.
Blowing Rocks Preserve Director Andrea Graves says ”we have been fortunate to work on this project with the City of Punta Gorda and local residents who understand the benefits of using nature-based solutions, such as oyster reefs, to help protect our shorelines from the future impacts of erosion, storms and sea level rise.”
An essential step to understanding the success of any restoration project is to monitor its progress over time. The 6-month monitoring took place in early May, with projected long-term benefits to include increase in oyster populations and attraction of additional species to the area.
Monitoring results showed young oyster settlement on all 3 of the reef materials! We look forward to seeing how these reefs are growing at their one-year anniversary. Stay Tuned!