Area Students help build oyster reef


STUART — Earlier this month, 40 students from South Fork High School came together to take part in the Oyster Reef Restoration Project. The students in Russell McFee's Advanced Placement Environmental Science class had a unique opportunity to learn first-hand how oyster habitat benefits estuary environments. On a recent early release day, the students met at the Oyster Reef Restoration staging area to fill 300 bags with 20-30 pounds of oyster cultch. The cultch, which is comprised of fossilized shell, is being used to construct a shoreline oyster reef that will provide habitat for oyster colonization. While the amount of shell bagged by the South Fork High School students represents a small fraction of the 30 million pounds of cultch being deployed in the St. Lucie Estuary and Loxahatchee River as part of the Oyster Reef Restoration Project, the educational initiative provides a valuable opportunity to be involved in a large-scale restoration project. "As soon as I learned about the project I wanted to get my class involved," McFee said. "It's a chance for the students to make a difference in their own backyard and learn in the process."

The students will continue to fill bags with cultch and once complete, they will use them to create an intertidal reef just offshore of Rio Nature Park on the north side of the St. Lucie Estuary, where the students will continue monitoring water quality throughout the rest of the school year.

"The oyster project is the start of something big, it's great that we are trying to get the rivers back to the way they used to be," said Annie Uzar, South Fork High School student.
About the Oyster Reef Restoration Project

The Oyster Reef Restoration Project involves the placement of approximately 30 million pounds of cultch (fossilized shell, limestone rock, and recycled concrete rubble which are hard materials designed to provide points of attachment for oysters) within the St. Lucie Estuary and the Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River to provide critically needed habitat so that oysters can repopulate the estuaries.

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 an amount equal to the total volume of the 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 recreationally important fish such as gag grouper, gray snapper, redfish, and sheepshead.

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

This educational Web site has been created to keep the public informed and updated on the progress of the restoration efforts.

For more information, contact The Oyster Reef Restoration Hotline 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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