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Join SCCF for Community-Based Oyster Restoration Project

By Staff | Nov 29, 2017

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation is seeking volunteers who would like to help them restore and enhance oyster habitat in Tarpon Bay today, as well as four dates in December.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, Friday, Dec. 1, Saturday, Dec. 2, Tuesday, Dec. 5, and Friday, Dec. 8. Volunteers will meet at the Gavin Site, 2621 Sanibel-Captiva Road, where they will park before walking a trail through J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to the Tarpon Bay boat ramp. After the barge is loaded, the shells will be taken to the reef, about a 10-minute boat ride.

Those who would like to lend a helping hand will be tasked with loading dry shell into buckets, which will then be loaded onto a trailer before being transported to a barge.

“We are going to dump the shell onto the reef. We are going to repeat that until the shell is gone,” Marine Laboratory Director Eric Milbrandt said.

Individuals are strongly encouraged to wear close toed shoes and old clothes.

“We will be in the water probably waist deep. If you don’t want to get wet you don’t have to,” he said. “We want people in old sneakers, wet suit booties. No flip flops.”

Milbrandt said students from Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Southwestern State College, as well as SCCF and “Ding” Darling staff will join the effort.

“The part of it that I always find the most interesting about it is meeting people and finding out why they are there and interested in oysters. A log of them don’t know, so we spend a lot of time teaching about reefs and what they do and why they are important.

Milbrandt said they picked a site in Tarpon Bay because it was firm and did not have any oysters.

In December 2015, SCCF put 50 cubic yards of shell on the reef.

“Since then we have been collecting shells from local restaurants, so that it saves the shell from going into the landfill. We provide bins and we pick them up once a week,” Milbrandt said, which has accumulated to about 25 yards of shells.

The restaurants that have provided a helping hand include Timbers for the last eight years, the Lazy Flamingo for three, or four years and the Fish House, who worked with SCCF for approximately a year.

Due to the restoration work completed by SCCF there are now about 3 inch oysters on the reef in Tarpon Bay, as well as various other sizes.

“One of the bright spots about having a really wet year is that this reef is pretty far west. It’s pretty far away from our main source of fresh water. What happens with the eastern oyster is if it’s in higher salinities, above 25, or 27, which is pretty typical for Tarpon Bay, it gets diseases and it gets preyed upon by whelks and conchs and other marine species. Ideally, oysters do really well in areas that are pretty stable in the salinity,” Milbrandt said.

Since the Calooshatchee is constantly fluctuating, he said their strategy was to build reefs to the west and east, so when the area is in a drought period the reefs further east will do well, while wet periods will help the reefs to the west.

“This is the farther west reef,” he said in Tarpon Bay. “We are going to add to it. Oyster larvae is abundant in the water, especially around existing reefs. In this case we have restored a reef that is doing really well. There is lots of larvae there, so all we need to do is add hard places for them to attach. They will attach and grow into oysters.”

Oysters are beneficial because they are filter feeders. Each oyster can filter between 25 to 50 gallons a day, resulting in a water quality benefit because they are decreasing the algae that is in the water while clearing the water.

“You can really see that if you know where a reef is,” Milbrandt said. “The water is always clearer over the top of the reef instead of around it because they are always filtering so much.”

He said the “Ding” Darling Refuge staff and park manager have allowed them to work on the project.

This batch of dates will mark the third time SCCF has conducted the Community Based Oyster Restoration Project since 2010. SCCF started at Bowman’s Beach at Clam Bayou, which are doing fine, before centralizing at the City of Sanibel Boat Ramp before dispersing to locations around the Causeway Islands and Tarpon Bay.

“The motivation was of course to make more habitat, which 90 percent of the oysters in this area has been lost,” Milbrandt said of the combined dredging for road beds and unregulated harvest. “We are trying to fill that void.”

SCCF is part of a regional effort for Southwest Florida which includes restoring 25 acres by 2025.

For more information, email marinelab@sccf.org.