Oyster Habitat Restoration Project Underway
The Nature Conservancy partners with CH2M and Ecology and Environment, Inc., to design 6.5 mile-project.
Pensacola, FL | October 20, 2016
The Nature Conservancy announced the first steps in a three-year effort to design an oyster habitat restoration project along 6.5-miles of shoreline in East Bay near Pensacola, Florida. The Conservancy is partnering with CH2M and Ecology and Environment, Inc., to monitor, design and permit the project, which will help restore a healthy, functioning oyster habitat and restore this critical habitat that has been significantly reduced from its former range across the Gulf’s bays and estuaries.
"Oysters and the reef habitat they form are vital for the health and well-being of our environment, economies, and communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico," said Anne Birch, marine conservation director for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. "The state's restoration of oyster habitat in East Bay will help boost the oyster fishery economy and complements The Nature Conservancy's East Bay project to restore essential oyster reef habitat for species such as fish, crabs and birds. Together we are working to restore this habitat for both nature and people."
Phase 1 of the project, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, provides for 3 years of pre-restoration monitoring, project design and permitting to develop the most effective and efficient project blueprint. Reef construction will follow in later phases of the project. CH2M, Ecology & Environment and the Conservancy will apply their proven strategy of close collaboration among engineers, ecologists and area stakeholders in this living shoreline project.
“Most oyster restoration projects are small scale. The Pensacola East Bay Oyster Habitat Restoration Project will be a model for large-scale coastal habitat restoration,” said Jeff DeQuattro, Gulf Program Manager for the Conservancy. “Science and engineering will drive the solutions, with full-scale design and modeling, to ensure lasting resilience and durability.”
Healthy oyster and other estuarine and marine habitats help protect coastlines from wave damage and erosion, but 85 percent of oyster reefs have been lost worldwide largely through overharvesting, degraded water quality, habitat loss and other factors, making them the most severely impacted marine habitat on Earth. The Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay region are no exception. This restoration project, the most significant on the Gulf Coast and the largest CH2M has designed, will begin to restore oyster reefs in East Bay where they were once plentiful while also providing shoreline protection, nursery and a foraging habitat for other aquatic life. Reef restoration is also expected to complement the commercial oyster reefs and industry that have been hit hard over the years.
“By designing and constructing oyster reefs, we’ll promote oyster settlement on the reef, provide for an additional aquatic habitat and reduce shoreline erosion,” said David Stejskal, CH2M’s project manager. “The coast will see great restoration benefits such as enhanced fish and bird habitat and more sea grasses, and protect the vulnerable shoreline.” Stejskal and the CH2M team have been providing preliminary assistance to the Conservancy on this project since February 2015.
Ecology & Environment is currently developing a monitoring plan for the project and will conduct pre-restoration monitoring according to the oyster habitat monitoring protocols by The Nature Conservancy. "Conducting this environmental and ecological monitoring will allow for adaptive managemtn to ensure this Project's success and inform future oyster reef restoration efforts," said Davy Crawley, Ecology & Environment's Project Manager. The first round of quarterly monitoring expected to begin in December 2016.
Sharing a passion for natural infrastructure as a viable way to increase coastal and climate change resilience, the Conservancy, CH2M and Ecology & Environment are creating groundbreaking collaborations with scientists and engineers on these types of projects and opportunities to examine and compare nature-based solutions for risk reduction. The Conservancy selected CH2M and Ecology & Environment for this project because of their in-house ecology, modeling, coastal engineering and design experience on oyster habitats and living shoreline projects, combined with its local homegrown knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico.
The design and permitting of the Pensacola East Bay Oyster Restoration project is expected to be completed by early 2018. During this first phase Ecology & Environment will be conducting baseline and water quality monitoring for the project. With monitoring estimated to be complete by November 2018, the Conservancy will seek additional funding for construction from a variety of sources.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.