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1.   What is the Oyster Restoration Project?
2.   Where will oyster reef restoration occur?
3.   Why were these project areas selected?
4.   What materials will be used to construct the reefs and what size will they be?
5.   Why do oysters need a reef?
6.   What is substrate?
7.   What is cultch?
8.   What is oyster spat?
9.   What benefits do oysters provide to rivers, lagoons, and estuaries?
10. What are the environmental benefits of the oyster restoration project?
11. Why is the oyster population in the estuaries so low right now? What causes oyster populations to decline?
12. Will the oysters survive if large releases of water from Lake Okeechobee occur?
13. What benefit do new mangrove and other shoreline plantings provide to the project?
14. Will water quality monitoring be a part of the project?
15. Are there other research or restoration efforts that will benefit from and/or partner with the project?
16. What agency is spearheading these efforts?
17. Does Martin County have any past experience in oyster restoration?
18. Who is doing the actual construction of the reefs?
19. How long will it take to construct the reefs?
20. What is the cost of the project and how is it being funded?
21. How does the project benefit the local economy?
22. What is the water depth in the reef areas?
23. Will the reefs impact navigation?
24. Are there other organizations and environmental groups involved in the project?
25. Will there be any restricted areas to boaters and fishermen during construction?
26. Can local restaurants and eateries contribute their discarded oyster shells to the project?
27. Are there volunteer opportunities associated with the project?
28. How can citizens get involved with the Oyster Reef Restoration project?


1. What is the Oyster Restoration Project?

In June 2009, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded Martin County more than $4 million in federal funding for the Oyster Reef Restoration Project as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The project will restore important oyster habitat in the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee Estuaries, leading to significant long-term ecological improvements to the health of the rivers as well as providing additional recreational and economic benefits to the community. The Oyster Reef Restoration project also takes a significant step toward the fulfillment of one of the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

The project involves the placement of over 30 million pounds of cultch - fossilized shell, limestone rock, recycled concrete rubble and other hard materials - to be used to construct a series of patch reefs in order to provide habitat for oyster colonization. The project also provides for water quality monitoring efforts and other research elements. In addition, there will be a living shoreline component in certain areas where red mangroves, cordgrass and other plant species will be placed in an effort to reduce shoreline erosion.

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2. Where will oyster reef restoration occur?

Oyster reef restoration efforts will take place in the St. Lucie River, primarily between the Roosevelt and Evans-Crary Bridges, as well as in the Northwest fork of the Loxahatchee River.

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3. Why were these project areas selected?

Oyster populations have declined by over 75% in the last 60 years. To determine the best locations for the reefs, a comprehensive survey was conducted to measure muck layer depth, salinity levels, water quality, past existence of oyster beds and other characteristics. Selected sites have suitable conditions for the placement of cultch and for oyster spat recruitment and are areas where oyster reefs were historically found. These areas have ideal salinity levels to support oyster growth and they are also wide, shallow areas, which favor oyster reef development.

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4. What materials will be used to construct the reefs and what size will they be?

Cultch will be used to construct the reefs. Cultch is any hard material - most often fossilized shells, limestone rock and recycled concrete rubble - that is placed on water bottoms to enhance oyster habitat or create oyster reefs. In some areas patch reefs 100 feet long and 23 feet wide are being built, separated from each other by 30 feet. In other areas, these patches are grouped together without spacing in order to maximize the use of suitable substrate.

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5. Why do oysters need a reef?

Oyster larvae need a hard surface where they can attach to and continue their development. Much of the hard surface that previously existed in the project areas has been destroyed or covered in sediment.

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6. What is substrate?

Substrate is the base upon which an organism lives. In the case of oysters, the substrate can be natural material such as oyster shell, mangrove roots, or limestone, or it can be man-made surfaces such as dock pilings or seawalls. 

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7. What is cultch?

Cultch is fossilized shell, coral or other similar materials produced by living organisms designed to provide points of attachment for oysters. Cultch is placed on water bottoms to enhance oyster habitat or create oyster reefs and is generally a by-product of sand mining.

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8. What is oyster spat?

Spat are oysters that have just settled to the bottom, hopefully finding some structure (prop roots, dock pilings, oyster shell, and natural rock) where they will attach and grow.

The life cycle of the oyster begins with a free-swimming larval stage that eventually attaches to a hard substrate becoming an oyster spat. The spat begins a growth period that is classified into sub-adult and adult phases.

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9. What benefits do oysters provide to rivers, lagoons, and estuaries?

Oyster habitat is vital to the health of an estuary, effectively filtering nutrients, algae, bacteria, fine sediments and toxins from the water and improving water quality. A typical adult oyster filters between 20 and 50 gallons per day! When fully populated with oysters, the constructed reefs will be able to filter the total volume of the St. Lucie Estuary in about one month. Clearer water allows for more sunlight penetration which can lead to expansion of seagrass beds.

Oyster reefs provide important forage and refuge habitat for over 300 species of invertebrates, such as shrimp, crabs, clams, snails and worms, as well as many species of fish such as snook, grouper, redfish, black drum and more. Many fish species that live as adults on the offshore reefs spend the juvenile phase of their life on oyster reefs.

Oysters also support critical fisheries and when coupled with other coastal restoration efforts such as mangrove and spartina plantings, restored oyster reefs can also serve as effective shoreline buffers.

Oysters are an indicator species, meaning that their presence in the water can be used to gather information on the overall health of the estuary. Within the last sixty years, the oyster coverage that was historically present in the two estuaries has declined by as much as 75 percent. Restoration efforts that can increase the oyster population help to improve the overall ecological health of the river.

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10. What are the environmental benefits of the oyster restoration project?

• The reefs will provide an increase in essential habitat available for many species of invertebrates besides oysters, such as shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, as well as many species of fish.

• A larger oyster population will effectively filter more water in the estuaries. When fully populated with oysters, the reefs will be able to filter the total volume of the St. Lucie Estuary in about one month.

• The improvements in water quality will lead to expanded seagrass growth, which creates important fish nursery habitat.

• Oyster reefs along with mangrove and other plantings will serve as effective shoreline stabilizers, helping to combat erosion.

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11. Why is the oyster population in the estuaries so low right now? What causes oyster populations to decline?

The oyster population in the estuaries has been negatively impacted by the lack of available substrate (hard surfaces for the oysters to attach to and grow). Erosion, runoff, and freshwater releases have resulted in layers of muck that have covered over historical oyster beds making them unsuitable for oyster colonization. The creation of new reefs will provide greater surface area for oyster colonization.

Oysters have also been negatively impacted by the changes in salinity levels within the estuaries. Oysters cannot survive in water that is too salty or too fresh. Runoff, as well as fresh water releases from Lake Okeechobee, has caused oyster populations to decline. The additional available oyster habitat will enable faster oyster recovery.

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12. Will the oysters survive if large releases of water from Lake Okeechobee occur?

When public health and safety concerns require large releases from Lake Okeechobee, or other negative water quality impacts occur due to storms or other severe weather, oyster mortality levels will increase. These newly created reefs, however, will provide additional areas of refuge for the oyster population within the estuaries, increasing their rate of survival and allowing for a more rapid regeneration of oysters. Remnant shells will also serve to further increase habitat for new oyster populations. A larger number of surviving oysters coupled with the larger area of available substrate will increase the rate of oyster recovery in the future.

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13. What benefit do new mangrove and other shoreline plantings provide to the project?

Mangroves and other shoreline plantings serve to stabilize the shoreline and reduce erosion. This will lead to a decrease in the volume of muck that has covered oyster beds in the past. The shoreline plantings also serve as habitat for many species, adding to the overall health and diversity of the estuary.

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14. Will water quality monitoring be a part of the project?

Monthly water quality monitoring will be conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute as part of this project.

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15. Are there other research or restoration efforts that will benefit from and/or partner with the project?

The Oyster Restoration Project takes a significant step toward realizing one of the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP) - the expansion of oyster reef habitat in both estuaries. Research efforts to assess the impact of oyster reef construction on species of fish and invertebrates associated with reefs will occur.

Additional research will look at the impact of sedimentation on the restored reefs. A study funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service will investigate the source of oyster larvae that colonize these reefs.

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16. What agency is spearheading these efforts?

Martin County and the Loxahatchee River District acquired permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowing construction of the oyster reefs.

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17. Does Martin County have any past experience in oyster restoration?

Martin County conducted a pilot project in 2005 in which CSA International, Inc. (CSA) managed construction of 18 patch reefs in the St. Lucie Estuary. Those reefs were built using the same methods and are virtually identical to the reefs being constructed in the current project. In 2006 Martin County and CSA built an additional 70 patch reefs in the St. Lucie Estuary. Annual monitoring of these reefs has shown them to be very successful, averaging almost 400 oysters per square meter.

Throughout the last two years, the Loxahatchee River District and their partners created 9 artificial oyster reefs beneath residential docks in the Loxahatchee River through a collaboration of environmental managers, area businesses, residents and local students. Research and monitoring of these new reefs show exciting and promising results.

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18. Who is doing the actual construction of the reefs?

CSA International is the consulting firm the County has hired to oversee the construction efforts and CSA has several subcontractors performing various tasks associated with the project. Construction of the reefs is being conducted by McCulley Marine Services of Ft. Pierce. Turbidity monitoring during construction is being conducted by Ecological Associates, Inc of Jensen Beach.

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19. How long will it take to construct the reefs?

Construction began in the St. Lucie Estuary in August 2009, and will continue for approximately 8 months. Construction in the Loxahatchee is currently planned to begin following the completion of the work in the St. Lucie. All construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2010.

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20. What is the cost of the project and how is it being funded?

The total cost of the project is just over $4 million, which includes extensive mapping of the estuaries, construction of the restoration project, and associated research and monitoring. The funding for the project is being made available through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 stimulus grant. The grant has been awarded to Martin County and is being administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

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21. How does the project benefit the local economy?

The Oyster Restoration Project will provide for the retention and creation of approximately 100 jobs associated with construction and monitoring. Longer term, the improvement in water quality and increased habitat will benefit both commercial and recreational fishing and boating.

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22. What is the water depth in the reef areas?

In most of the planned restoration area, the water depths range from 3 to 5 feet. Depths shallower than 3 feet are inaccessible by barge and construction in these areas is not feasible due to cost.

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23. Will the reefs impact navigation?

Every effort is being made to minimize impact on navigation. No reefs will be constructed within 100 feet of any existing docks without written consent of the owner affected. All restoration sites wider than 500 feet will contain navigation channels at least 100 feet in width.

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24. Are there other organizations and environmental groups involved in the project?

The Oyster Reef Restoration project is being coordinated through Martin County's Coastal and Water Quality groups, both of which have been involved in water quality and oyster reef restoration efforts in the St. Lucie Estuary area for more than a decade. A coalition of supporters including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community and business leaders and volunteers are participating in various aspects of the restoration project. Key partners include the Loxahatchee River District, the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, CSA International Inc., Florida Oceanographic Society, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) and many others.

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25. Will there be any restricted areas to boaters and fishermen during construction?

We do not anticipate that construction activities will cause any areas to be restricted. Boaters will be advised to give a wide berth to the construction barge at all times.

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26. Can local restaurants and eateries contribute their discarded oyster shells to the project?

Local restaurants and catering halls can participate by collecting their discarded oyster, clam and mussel shells. A volunteer will pick up the shell and take it to a storage area where it will later be bagged and used for near shore reefs.

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27. Are there volunteer opportunities associated with the project?

Opportunities to assist with shell collection from local eateries, bagging of shell and constructing near shore reefs, as well as mangrove plantings will be available throughout the project. Several volunteer groups and schools are already participating in the project. To get involved, email us at info@oysterrestoration.com.

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28. How can citizens get involved with the Oyster Reef Restoration project?

Contact the Oyster Reef Restoration Project at info@oysterrestoration.com or call us at 772-221-1387 or visit www.oysterrestoration.com for more information.

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

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