"Greening" Oyster Reef Restoration in the Gulf: Evaluating Biodegradable Alternatives to Traditional Plastic Mesh Bagging Methods

Efforts to enhance and restore oyster reef habitat are occurring throughout the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regions. Small-scale projects predominantly use polyethylene plastic mesh bags filled with oyster shells to aid in shell retention during reef development. However, with increasing recognition of microplastic contamination, new restoration approaches are needed to prevent introduction of plastics to the marine environment. If successful, our approach of using biodegradable mesh alternatives can be easily replicated across the Gulf of Mexico region to support habitat restoration.

The long-term goal of this project is to advance new, innovative habitat restoration techniques to enhance and restore Gulf habitat, while decreasing the introduction of plastics to the marine environment. Our objectives are two-fold:

  1. Compare the ecological performance and cost-effectiveness of restoring oyster reef using biodegradable mesh alternatives versus plastic mesh across an estuarine habitat mosaic (from intertidal to subtidal habitats), and
  2. Engage underserved (primarily Hispanic) populations in south Texas in coastal habitat conservation through hands-on participation in habitat restoration activities.

Throughout the duration of the project period restoration efforts will restore 0.15 acres of oyster reef habitat in St. Charles Bay and protect 31 acres of coastal vegetation in the Texas Coastal Bend. Through the community outreach component, approximately 400 youth and adults from underserved populations in south Texas will be trained in oyster reef habitat restoration activities. We will also disseminate lessons learned to resource managers and restoration practitioners.

For more information about community oyster reef restoration, visit our Sink Your Shucks page.