SBEP Project Creates New Oyster Reef in Sarasota Bay
This spring, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program staff scientist Dr. Jay Leverone collaborated with the State of Florida Marine/Estuarine Habitat Restoration and Restoration Monitoring and Assessment (MEHRMA) program to create 1.2 acres of oyster habitat along the eastern shore of Sarasota Bay near Bayshore Gardens.
Hardworking volunteers helped us bag fossilized shells in biodegradable twine. Over 100 bags were arranged in four 30-foot-wide circles on the bottom of the Bay. The circles were filled with loose shell. They might not look like much now, but barnacles and oyster spat are beginning to colonize the loose shells. Soon, the reefs will be teeming with fish.
Historical maps and images tell us that Sarasota Bay once supported a vibrant oyster community. Coastal development operations including dredge-and-fill activities destroyed much of this valuable hard-bottom habitat. Although the precise acreage of hard bottom habitat lost due to dredge-and-fill activities has not been determined, nearly 4,500 acres of bay bottom are known to have been covered by dredge-and-fill operations. Without hard bay bottom structure, oyster larvae (known as spat) cannot settle and form new reefs. To compensate for these lost habitats, SBEP has embarked on several oyster restoration and artificial reef creation projects.
Oyster beds constitute a unique and valuable component of the Sarasota Bay ecosystem. Oyster beds provide structural habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates; in fact, oyster beds often support the highest species diversity and faunal abundance of any given habitat type within the bay. Oysters are also valued for their ability to improve water quality through their prolific filtering capacity.
SBEP supported a study of the historical distribution of oyster beds throughout the estuary and found that many historical beds have been lost, either to physical disturbances accompanying coastal development, through burial by sediments, or other unknown causes. This study led to the decision by the SBEP to initiate an Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) restoration program within Sarasota Bay.