Hello all "Behind the Tank readers!” Kim Waser here. I’m the newest addition to the Florida Oceanographic crew as the Marketing & Communications Specialist.
Recently, I had the exciting opportunity to join two members of the research team, Vincent and Hilde, on a monitoring visit to the Oyster Reef Restoration site in the Indian River Lagoon. This restoration site is located around a spoil island just south of the Fort Pierce Inlet.
Oysters that have been collected at local restaurants and bagged by volunteers have been placed around the island to create new oyster reefs. The results are impressive. I stingray shuffled through the shallow waters off the island with Hilde, a graduate student at FAU studying for her Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Research Assistant at Florida Oceanographic, who showed me oyster shells that were hanging from a "stringer” (PVC piping connected to form a ‘T’ with hanging wires to string up the shells). The oyster shells I saw were placed there the month before, and I could already see attached oyster larvae starting to grow.
Vincent, Research Scientist at Florida Oceanographic, gave me a tour of the oyster reefs built around the island. He showed me several oysters that have grown on the site, some of which were already full size!
Before my visit to the site, I knew about the many benefits of oyster reefs in estuaries. For instance, that oysters were great filters of the water – with one adult oyster capable of filtering 50 gallons of water a day. That they provided food and habitat to many species, including birds, fish, and crabs. And that they protected coastal shorelines from things like boat wakes and storms. But witnessing these perks firsthand was a whole lot different than reading or hearing about it.
While looking at the oyster reefs, Vincent pointed out the original distance between the island and the closest barrier oyster reef. At the time of my visit, the island was a good couple of feet closer to the reef. Considering the unlikelihood of the reef moving, it was clear that the island’s shoreline had expanded, which as Vincent explained, was most likely due to the added protection of the reef from boat wakes and storms.
I also saw seagrass growing close to the oyster reefs. New oyster reefs cannot be built within 6 feet of existing seagrasses, so the seagrass I was looking at was new growth, most likely aided, just like the island’s shoreline, by the buffer of the oyster reef.
And of course, the water around this reef was crystal clear and full of crabs, fish, and birds overhead!
Speaking of which, as we were about to pack up and leave the site, Vincent and Hilde spotted a distressed bird that was badly stuck in fishing line caught in the branches of a tree on the island. Fortunately, they were able to free the bird (Vincent and Hilde are both trained to rescue wildlife, but I’d recommend calling the FWC at 888-404-3922 immediately if you find a hurt or distressed animal – please do not touch or relocate any of these animals yourself). After a tedious rescue (fishing line really does do a lot of damage), the bird was tired, but otherwise in good health. Please remember to be mindful of fishing line and other waste when on or around the water. As I witnessed firsthand, a little waste can do a lot of damage!
Learn more about the Oyster Reef Restoration work here.