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Volunteers needed to help bag oyster shells

By Staff | May 23, 2011

Volunteers are needed at Bowman’s Beach on Tuesday, May 31 from 8:30 a.m. until noon to bag oyster shell that will be used to restore reefs in Clam Bayou.

“We have received a tremendous amount of help from the local restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, who have been collecting fresh green oyster shell to build reefs during peak visitor season,” said Sabrina Lartz, who is again coordinating the effort for the SCCF Marine Laboratory. “In total, over 17,000 pounds of fresh green shell has been collected since October 2010.”

Oysters form living reefs that provide nursery habitat for adult and juvenile fishes, shrimp and crabs, as well as feeding sites for many larger animals (fishes, birds, reptiles, mammals). Oysters also filter significant volumes of water, improving water clarity, stabilize sediment and shorelines. Adult oysters release millions of fertilized eggs (May to October) which then develop in our waters over 2-3 weeks. They then must attach (now called “spat”) to a hard substrate (ideally other oysters) or they die.

“By building reefs in the spring, we are providing critical settling material to continue the cycle,” added Lartz.

Restoration of oyster and mangrove habitats will benefit many important fish species, including snook, gray snapper, mullet, spotted seatrout, red drum, tarpon, goliath grouper and numerous ecologically-important invertebrates that support the fishery resources. Enhanced habitats will provide feeding areas for endangered species such as wood storks, piping plovers, least terns, snowy plovers, Florida manatees and smalltooth sawfish.

According to Lartz, more than 21 tons of fossil shell has been transported to the Bowman’s Beach work site. Last year, the Marine Lab had over 300 volunteers who shoveled, bagged and deployed almost 100 tons of fossil oyster shell to build oyster reefs, a critical habitat for many invertebrate, fish, bird and mammal species.

Clam Bayou was once connected to the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound. Storms and other human activities (road construction) isolated it from the above resulting in declining mangrove, seagrass and oyster habitats.

In 2006, the City of Sanibel, with numerous funding partners began a restoration effort installing box culverts, reconnecting it with Pine Island Sound. The SCCF Marine Lab is continuing this effort having received 2009-2011 funding from NOAA, TNC and other partners such as the City of Sanibel.

A related project is collecting and planting red mangroves, along with seagrasses.

Participants do not have to stay for the entire event, but people are encouraged to do so. Please register in advance by contacting Sabrina Lartz at the SCCF Marine Lab via e-mail at slartz@sccf.org or by calling 395-4617. Details and further instructions about the event will be given during registration.