In Southwest Florida, oysters are one of the major habitat features in the water and are only exceeded by mangroves and seagrass. Oysters purify water by filtering nutrients coming from the land and converting them into oysters, crabs, worms, fish and other living things that form the base of the aquatic food chain. Reefs protect the land from storms and buffer the shores from waves and boat wakes.
Because of their valuable attributes and the need for a comprehensive data set of oyster habitat, Sarasota County initiated a project to map different types of Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) habitat in county bays and creeks. In recent years, projects had been conducted by the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Sea Grant, and Sarasota County to develop historical and current maps depicting the location and extent of oyster habitat in county bays. But, there had been limited efforts to map oysters in the county coastal creeks. The project was completed in 2013, and data collected will serve as a baseline to compare with future trends as watersheds are altered through development or restoration processes. The data may also aid in the identification of restoration sites; future oyster reef restoration projects may be the key to the long-term survival of oysters in the region.