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NOTICE: New Oyster Bar near Punta Gorda, Fla.

eastern-oyster-florida-posterPUNTA GORDA, FL
In a joint announcement today, partners in the creation of new oyster reef habitat in the shallow waters along Trabue Harborwalk are announcing great success — up to 1,400 oysters per square meter have taken residence on sections of the reef! Just nine months after the creation of the habitat along the coastline of Punta Gorda, a community of diverse wildlife has appeared, anchored by the arrival of the new oysters.

At the end of September 2015, The Nature Conservancy Florida, City of Punta Gorda, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, and a number of community volunteers completed the installation of reef habitat to attract and support new oysters. Once abundant throughout Charlotte Harbor, oyster reefs provide habitat for important fish and shellfish such as mullet and blue crabs. Oysters also improve water quality, and may help to stabilize shorelines by reducing erosion from wave and tide action. One goal of the project is to determine which of three reef building techniques is the most productive and effective for increasing oyster populations and attracting additional species to the area — information critical to the broader goal of expanding oyster restoration throughout Charlotte Harbor to support communities and fisheries.

Oysters require specific water conditions to flourish and hard surfaces on which to settle. The nine newly created oyster reefs are spread over nearly four acres and include three reefs composed of oyster shells affixed to mats, three reefs of fossilized loose shell, and three reefs built from mesh bags containing fossilized shell. Approximately 50 tons of shell were used to build the reefs. Monitoring results indicate that oyster recruitment was excellent for each method. A success criterion for a recent oyster reef restoration project in the Chesapeake Bay area was greater than 50 oyster recruits per square meter –- the Punta Gorda reefs far exceeded this benchmark.

Click here to see a poster about the life cycle, habitat and restoration of the Eastern oyster.

Monitoring began six months after the installation of the reef and data collected was then carefully analyzed. Variables such as temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, water quality (clarity/turbidity, measured at the reef sites and compared to other local areas), presence of birds, presence of the endangered smalltooth sawfish, and types and quantity of aquatic vegetation were measured. Additional data collected on the invertebrate and macroinvertebrate populations that are now present in and around the reefs is still being analyzed.

Highlights include:

Shell mats attracted, on average, over 300 new oysters per square meter.
Loose shell attracted, on average, nearly 600 new oysters per square meter.
Bagged shells were by far the most successful and attracted, on average, over 1300 oyster recruits per square meter.
The reefs made of oyster shell mats, though less populated than the bagged shells reefs, have larger-sized recruits.
A diverse community of at least 12 species of birds now visits the reef.

“Oysters have a unique way of bringing communities together. They are a symbol of our coastal heritage and have been at the core of our culture and communities for centuries,” said The Nature Conservancy’s Marine Conservation Director, Anne Birch. “This project is a wonderful example of how science and the efforts of people can come together to restore oyster reefs in special places like the City of Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor estuary. The Nature Conservancy extends a warm oyster appreciation to the partners and volunteers who have made this project possible.”

City of Punta Gorda Mayor Rachel Keesling commented, “This pilot project is already showing signs of success. The data supporting expanding habitats, stabilizing shorelines, and water quality are exciting. Charlotte Harbor is the cornerstone for our city so its health is critical to our waterfront way of life.”

“The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves is proud to be a partner of this oyster habitat creation project in the Peace River,” said Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves Manager Heather Stafford. “The success of this pilot project makes it a good model for future oyster restoration work within the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, and we would like to thank the partners and the many volunteers involved.”

Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program’s Communications Manager Maran Hilgendorf stated, “This effort has been a great example of success in many ways. Diverse interests came together to holistically consider restoration of one species to benefit water quality, habitat for other species, including the endangered sawfish, and stewardship. It proves that partnerships work.”

This project is funded by the generous support of The Mosaic Company Foundation, Sally Mead Hands Foundation, and individual donors. “We are tremendously pleased to see the oyster reef restoration project thriving,” said Mark Kaplan, Mosaic’s Vice President – Phosphate Services and President of The Mosaic Company Foundation. “We value our partnership with The Nature Conservancy and are proud to support their commitment to improving coastal habitat and water quality in Charlotte Harbor.”

The Nature Conservancy continues its commitment to restoring oysters in coastal areas throughout Florida and will use data collected here in the planning of additional habitat restoration in the Gulf of Mexico, including a future project in the Pensacola region.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at http://www.nature.org. To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit http://www.nature.org/global. To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.