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Bag It for the Bayou: SCCF Marine Lab hosts second oyster bagging

By Staff | May 26, 2011

By JEFF LYSIAK SCCF staff members Sabrina Lartz, kneeling in front, along with Nicole Martin, back row from left, Amanda Bryant, Joel Caouette, and Mark Thompson stand with already bagged fossil shells and the remaining pile on Bowman's Beach. A second oyster bagging will take place May 31 at the beach.

In September 2009 through funding from the TNC-NOAA Community Restoration program, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Marine Laboratory began restoring oyster reefs in the Clam Bayou — a 400-acre impoundment with extreme salinities. It was once connected to the Gulf of Mexico and Pine Island Sound through natural flow-ways.

Storm events, such as hurricanes, and human activities, such as road construction in the 1950s and 1960s, isolated this body of water from natural tidal exchange and resulted in loss or degradation of mangrove, seagrass and oyster reef habitats. That loss has been estimated at 150 acres of mangroves, 20 acres of oyster habitat and 120 acres of seagrass.

“They are 9,000 to 10,000 years old,” said Sabrina Lartz, who is a research assistant with the SCCF Marine Lab, about the fossil shells. “They do the job.”

The area of restoration includes more than 235 acres of public parks, including Silver Key and Bowman’s Beach Regional Park, and 14 total miles of mangrove shorelines, both public and privately owned. Through bagging fossil shells to help build oyster reefs, it provides a critical habitat for many invertebrate, fish, bird and mammal species.

“In total, more than 17,000 pounds of fresh green shell has been collected since October 2010,” said Lartz. “We have received a tremendous amount of help from local restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva islands, who have been collecting the fresh green oyster shell to build reefs during peak visitor season.”

Rachel Krauss

On May 17, nearly 500 bags of shells were bagged by 13 volunteers during the first “oyster bagging” on Bowman’s Beach. Lartz hopes to finish 500 more bags during the second “bagging” from 8:30 a.m. to noon May 31 at Bowman’s Beach.

“Participants don’t have to stay for the entire event,” said Lartz. “But we encourage people to do so.”

Oysters from living reefs that provide nursery habitat for adult and juvenile fishes, shrimp and crabs, as well as feeding sites for many larger animals makes the bagging and deployment of shells in the Clam Bayou. Adult oysters release millions of fertilized eggs, from May to October, which then develop in local waters over a two to three week period.

The eggs must attach, now called “spat,” to a hard substrate (ideally other oysters) or they die. By building reefs in the spring, a critical settling material is provided to continue the cycle.

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.

Jeremy Conrad

“It’s the circle of life,” noted Lartz.

Over the years, activities will include continued bagging and deployment of more than 21 tons of reef-building materials using volunteers, reef construction, habitat and water quality monitoring, including seagrass and mangrove health and oyster reef development, employing SCCF Lab and City of Sanibel staff, along with numerous volunteers.

“We have had more than 300 volunteers since the project began,” said Lartz. “They have shoveled, bagged and deployed almost 100 tons of fossil oyster shell to build reefs.”

The project is also deploying recruitment sampling units in Clam Bayou, Tarpon Bay, Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay to assess oyster recruitment and reef progress at sites with a variety of salinity ranges and larval abundances. Samples of water quality over the reefs are being taken, as oyster densities increases through time as a non-destructive method to assess reef restoration progress, as well as enumerating the organisms utilizing reefs.

If you would like to volunteer for the second oyster bagging on May 31, register prior to the event with Lartz via email at slartz@sccf.org‘>slartz@sccf.org or by calling 395-4617. Details and further instructions about the event will be given during registration.