Oyster Reef Restoration Project collects hundreds of pounds of oyster shells during seafood festival

STUART — One man’s trash indeed became another man’s treasure after several hundred pounds of oyster shells were collected during the Port Salerno Seafood Festival in January. The shells collected during this event will contribute to the special projects throughout the St. Lucie Estuary and Loxahatchee River being coordinated as part of the Oyster Reef
Restoration Project.

Butch Olsen, chairman of the Port Salerno Seafood Festival, said that when the committee met this year, helping the Oyster Reef Restoration Project was a unanimous decision. “We’ve always been about the community. Whether it’s by offering free parking and no admission cost so that it is affordable for everyone or it’s donating to a larger cause like the restoration project, we try to help in every way,” Olsen said.

In past years, the shells were thrown out by patrons along with the rest of their food and trash. This year, the Port Salerno Seafood Festival committee arranged for all guests to throw their shells into designated bins so they could be collected and donated to the Oyster Reef Restoration Project. Volunteers also walked around to vendors to gather any stray shells during the event.

“The Seafood Festival is always a really good thing for the local economy, with all of the vendors that participate,” said Matt Rowan, a volunteer for the Oyster Reef Restoration Project . “And the record number turnout this year certainly helped us in our efforts to collect this amount of shells.”

To form cultch, the oyster shells will be combined with other hard materials – most often fossilized shells, coral, or other similar materials produced by living organisms. Once bagged, the cultch will become part of the special projects that are ongoing, such as the one just offshore of the Rio Nature Park on the north side of the St. Lucie Estuary. Students from South Fork High School met earlier this month to bag oyster cultch that will form a series of patch reefs throughout the St. Lucie Estuary and Loxahatchee River.

The students have already received the shells that were collected during the Seafood Festival and will begin bagging the oyster cultch this spring. According to Rowan, this 2 to 3 month window of time between collection and bagging will allow the organic material stuck to the shells to erode off or be eaten away by “bugs and critters.”

The Oyster Reef Restoration Project has also been receiving oyster shells from local restaurants, namely King Neptune and the Riverwalk Café and Oyster Bar, and hopes to add more restaurants to the list of those participating soon. “These donations, along with what we collected during the Seafood Festival, make a big impact on the total we are trying to reach,” Rowan said.

About the Oyster Reef Restoration Project

The Oyster Reef Restoration Project involves providing critically needed habitat so that oysters can repopulate the estuaries by the placement of over 30 million pounds of cultch (fossilized shells, coral, and other similar materials produced by living organisms) within the St. Lucie Estuary and the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River. Oyster habitat is crucial to the health of our estuaries, effectively filtering nutrients, fine sediments, and toxins from the water. Just one adult oyster can filter between 20 and 50 gallons of water per day. The newly constructed reef habitat, when fully populated with oysters, could filter a volume of water equivalent to the entire St Lucie Estuary in about a month. Oyster reefs also provide essential habitat structure for many other forms of marine life, including shrimp, clams, crabs, snails, and a variety of fish such as gag grouper, gray
snapper, red drum, and sheepshead.

The project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, takes a significant step toward fulfilling one of the goals of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and is being implemented by Martin County's Engineering Department, with project management provided by CSA International, Inc. of Stuart.

For more information about the Oyster Reef Restoration project, call the information line at (772) 221-1387

This story is contributed by a member of the Treasure Coast community and is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with this site.

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

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