Most of oyster reef restoration completed in St. Lucie Estuary


MARTIN COUNTY — Thanks to a $4 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant awarded to the county last summer, 24 acres of new oyster beds in the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee estuaries will soon be helping to purify the water and restore their namesake rivers to ecological health.

Beginning in September 2009, the Oyster Reef Restoration Project involved the placement of more than 30 million pounds of fossilized shells in small patches of reef along the two waterways. These reefs will provide a safe habitat for oyster larva and replace some of that destroyed by agricultural runoff and freshwater releases. Experts believe as much as 75 percent of the oyster population has been lost over the last 60 years.

Martin County Water Quality Chief Gary Roderick says oyster reef restoration was vital enough to be included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan passed by Congress 10 years ago.

“The plan proposes to create 60 acres of oyster habitat, and we were able to provide 30 percent of the desired habitat through this grant,” he said.

Financed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the project provided temporary employment for more than a hundred workers, who recently finished laying more than 20 acres of oyster reefs in the St. Lucie River Estuary.

Dozens of volunteers also helped bag used oyster shells and plant new red mangroves to help keep erosion down near the new reefs. These included a group of environmental science students from South Fork High School who helped build an inshore reef at Rio Nature Park. Their instructor, Russell McFee, says her students got swept up in the emotion of river restoration.

“The kids were so excited that we bagged enough oysters to do a second reef,” she said. “The second one is going to be in downtown Stuart at the River Walk.”

McFee hopes her students can continue adding small oyster beds to the estuary in the future.

“I am absolutely passionate about being able to play a small part in restoring the health of the St. Lucie River,” she said. “I really hope to inspire the kids in not only learning about this special place, but taking responsibility for it as well.”

Workers and volunteers will now turn their attention to a 3.5-acre section of the Loxahatchee Estuary in Palm Beach County. Roderick says the partnership between the two counties helped the area win one of only fifty environmental restoration grants funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“We feel that the oyster habitat doesn’t have any county boundaries and we could get a double bang for our buck by improving both estuaries in the same grant,” he said.

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The Oyster Reef Restoration Project | 772-221-1387 | info@oysterrestoration.com

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