by Carrie Robertson
A team of research scientists from Harte Research Institute and the
Department of Life Sciences completed its second successful oyster
reef restoration project this spring. The year-long effort brought
together many members of the community and resulted in new oyster
habitat being created in St. Charles Bay near Rockport, Texas.
The restoration project site is located adjacent to Goose Island
State Park near a fishing pier and a large area of existing oyster
reef. The park's interpretive staff will use the restored reef as an
educational platform to teach park goers about oysters, their life
cycle and the important role they play in the marine ecosystem.
Initiated and led by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s (TAMUCC)
Dr. Jennifer Pollack
Paul Montagna, the project is part of an ongoing effort called "Sink Your Shucks" that recycles oyster shells to
enhance habitat. The team’s other key players are HRI’s Gail Sutton and Allison Knight. Students from TAMUCC including
Brittany Blomberg, Jaimie Nevins, Lindsey George, Maria Rodriguez
and Erika Diaz assist with research and coordination.
The Goose Island oyster reef restoration was built upon knowledge
gained during the team’s first oyster reef rebuilding project in
Copano Bay in July 2011, which had good results. Within a month after the Copano Bay
project’s completion, fish had recruited to the new reef.
Within six months, new oysters were growing.
The oyster reef building process starts with oyster shells recycled
by two downtown Corpus Christi seafood restaurants, Water Street
Oyster Bar and Water Street Seafood Company. Whereas most seafood
restaurants send their oyster shells to the landfill, TAMUCC’s
Oyster Recycling Program works with the
restaurants to reclaim the shucked shells and place them back into
the bay to create habitat for more oysters. The restaurants benefit
as well, since recycling their shells is more cost efficient than
paying to dump the heavy shells at the landfill.
Water Street Restaurants’ owner Brad Lomax has his workers set aside
their shucked oyster shells in special containers for recycling. The
shells are picked up twice a week and transported to the
Corpus Christi, where they are quarantined for six months, drying
and bleaching in the sun to kill any potential pathogens.
Afterwards, the shells are transported to the project site – in this
case, the shallow waters of St. Charles Bay near
Goose Island State
Park, about 30 miles north of Corpus Christi.
Why all the effort? Building habitat for oysters not only grows more
oysters but also provides many other benefits such as improved water
quality through their filter feeding activities. An adult can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Oyster reefs also provide food
and shelter for a variety of other marine organisms including fish,
shrimp, crabs and shorebirds.
How does it work? Baby, or larval, oysters start out swimming in the
water column, but they need a hard surface to adhere to in order to
form a shell and transform into young “spat” oysters. When recycled
oyster shells are placed on the bay bottom, they provide the perfect
substrate for this process. However, when oysters are harvested, the
shells are removed as well, which reduces the amount of habitat
available for new generations of reef builders. Replacing oyster
shells back into the bay helps continue the natural life cycle of
But getting the shells from the plate to the bottom of the bay
requires the combined efforts of a large community of people. A
grant from the Texas General Land Office funds the "bagging" part of
the project, in which volunteers stuff
recycled oyster shells into mesh bags. When the bags of shells are
placed on the bay bottom, they get encased by newly recruiting
oysters that begin to create a reef. "The bags are an integral part
of the process in that they hold the shells together and prevent the
shells from otherwise sinking into the muddy bottom," Sutton
explained. The research for her master’s degree, completed in 2011,
focused on the economic viability of oyster recycling.
For the team's first Goose Island project, community volunteers pitched in to help the HRI team on three
work days – March 10, April 28 and May 19 – resulting in
more than 40,000 pounds of oyster shell being deposited into the bay
to create the educational oyster reef.
About 500 volunteers worked as a team to fill the bags with shells.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, they passed the 25-pound bags from
land to water – fireman’s brigade style – until all 1,800 bags were
deposited at the restoration location in the bay.
Other partners in the effort include Texas Parks & Wildlife,
Texas State Aquarium, Moody High School
Marine Science Club, State Farm Youth Advisory Board, Coastal Bend
Bays Foundation and Gulf of Mexico Foundation.
HRI’s oyster team is planning its third oyster shell reef building
project to be conducted this summer. It will also be near Goose
Island but in a two-acre stretch of water on the Aransas Bay side.
The new reef will be designed to help create fish habitat and will
be studied for its ability to reduce water velocities to prevent
RECYCLING PROGRAM WEBSITE