Watch oyster reef restoration in action!
Building oyster reefs for wildlife and people
Long before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and ensuing spill, The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana was at work to improve the health of its marshlands and the Gulf of Mexico. One way in which the Conservancy works to restore the Gulf of Mexico is by building oyster reefs.
Overfishing, dredging, habitat loss and the deterioration of water quality have reduced the quality and extent of much of the Gulf’s oyster reef habitat. A global study revealed an 85 percent decline of native oyster reef habitat worldwide. But there is good news—the same study pinpointed the northern Gulf of Mexico as one of the most viable places for oyster reef restoration.
The Conservancy has several oyster reef restoration projects in Louisiana: at Vermilion Bay, Grand Isle, along the St. Bernard Parish marshes, and in Calcasieu Lake
Oyster reefs provide valuable benefits
- Oyster reefs can protect coasts and marshes from erosion and storm surges.
- Oyster reefs provide valuable wildlife habitat for species like fish, shrimp and crabs—more than 170 marine species have been documented at natural oyster reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
- Oysters, their reefs and the increased habitat they provide for commercial and sport species help fuel the local commercial and sport-fishing industries.
Protecting Marshlands and the Economy
Louisiana’s coastal marshes provide essential habitat for numerous fish, birds, shellfish and marine mammals. Approximately 75 percent of the nation's commercial fish and shellfish, and 80 to 90 percent of fish caught for recreation depend on estuaries at some stage in their life cycle.
Recreational fisheries also contribute substantially to Louisiana's economy, generating almost $49.9 million dollars in state and local sales tax revenue in 2006. During that same year, anglers spent more than $472 million on saltwater recreational fishing in Louisiana. This activity supported 7,733 jobs with nearly $229 million in earnings. Louisiana is second only to Alaska in commercial fisheries landings. One of out every 70 jobs in Louisiana can be attributed to commercial fisheries.
While salt marshes are among the most productive habitats in the world, in Louisiana they are changing forever. Because of complex problems such as shoreline erosion, roughly 16 square miles of Louisiana’s coast are lost each year, representing 80 percent of the total coastal wetland loss in the entire continental United States. The ecological and economic repercussions of this land loss are profound.
Coastal marshes are valuable for their role in storm protection, shoreline stabilization, flood attenuation, and hurricane protection to the Louisiana coast, protecting billions of dollars of infrastructure and the lives of those who live along the coast. With the devastation of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Isaac, scientists, managers, policy makers and the public witnessed the direct link between coastal habitats, fishing and Louisiana’s economy.
Oyster reefs act as natural coastal buffers by absorbing wave energy, reducing erosion and trapping suspended sediment. The shorelines that will be protected by TNC’s oyster habitat restoration border approximately 350 acres of existing marsh and this treatment is reducing the rate of erosion at these sites.