A decade of work is paying off for a team of coastal conservationists in Florida. A team of researchers won an $8.3 million grant to restore shrinking oyster reefs.
The struggling reefs serve as a natural buffer for the coast, and trap the freshwater that helps estuaries thrive. Oysters are a keystone species, meaning coastal ecosystems crumble without them. Led by researcher Peter Frederick, the University of Florida team will rebuild some of the dying oyster beds off the Coast of Levy County, using limestone rocks and old shells. Frederick hopes the project will revitalize the struggling oyster beds, which are closely tied to the overall health of the ecosystem.
“One of the big ecosystem benefits of these particular long-shore reefs is to actually maintain the shellfish and sport fishing and commercial fishing that is so characteristic of estuaries,” he said.
And Frederick says there are benefits for the local community as well.
“We also think it really gets people thinking about their environment. And what it is that is creating all that fish and shellfish around them, and birds and other plants. And hopefully gets them more involved in preservation and restoration,” he said.
Focusing on the coast from Horseshoe Beach to Crystal River, Frederick’s team has documented an 88% decline in offshore oyster reefs over the past thirty years, and a 66% decline in all oyster reefs, which they suspect is due to a lack of freshwater. The team hopes to slow saltwater intrusion and fortify the ecosystem at large, instead of focusing solely on oyster fisheries.