UF/IFAS researchers are working to rebuild the oyster reefs in the Big Bend area of Florida, which includes the coastal areas of Dixie County. Eighty-eight per cent of offshore oyster bars have disappeared in the Big Bend over the past 30 years, with severe impacts on the area’s environment and fisheries. The UF/IFAS team has found that using limestone boulders and polyester mesh bags filled with clam shells are effective way to fortify degraded oyster reefs. The boulders provide a foundation for young oysters, and the bags, weighing up to 300 pounds, provide a suitable habitat for tiny, free-floating oyster larvae to settle and grow, rebuilding the reef.
Initial results have shown that young oysters were colonizing the mesh bags at impressive rates. Within 18 months, oyster densities on the UF restoration sites were higher than the densities found at most other restored oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The reef’s long-term response is potentially more important, because scientists believe that successfully restored sites will be more resilient to environmental change and weather events. Monitoring efforts over the next 10 to 15 years will establish whether reefs at the study site will thrive and grow.
One piece of early evidence supporting the ecological value of restoration is that the restored reef sites attracted more birds than control sites – 62 percent more birds overall, and up to 500 percent more for some species, including the bald eagle.
In this video, UF/IFAS scientist Peter Frederick discusses UF/IFAS’ ongoing efforts to restore oyster reefs in the Big Bend.
Peter Frederick (third from left) with UF students conducting oyster reef surveys along Florida’s Big Bend. UF/IFAS Photo by Lyon Duong.