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Oyster Reef Restoration

Oyster reefs are built primarily by the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica). Oyster reefs are built via the successive reproduction and settlement of larvae onto hard structures such as existing oyster reefs, pilings, rocks, downed trees and recycled oyster shell. Thus, with continued settlement and subsequent generational growth, oysters may form massive reef structures in estuarine systems.

Oysters are filter feeders: They uptake food and oxygen by pumping massive amounts of water across their gills. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a 24-hour period! While feeding, oysters take in viruses, bacteria, phytoplankton, algae, sediments, and chemical contaminants found in the water column. This efficient biological filter increases water clarity by reducing sediment loads and promotes increased water quality by removing chemical contaminants and potentially harmful microorganisms from the water column. Oyster reefs also function as wave breaks and offer shoreline protection from storm events. By breaking powerful wave energy before it reaches the shoreline, oyster reefs play an important role in reducing shoreline erosion.

Historically, the Pensacola Bay System supported abundant oyster reefs and was a sustainable commercial harvesting area. In the late 1960s through early 1970s, the Pensacola Bay System suffered severe environmental degradation due to rampant discharges of industrial and residential affluent into the bay. By 1971, a die-off of more than 90 percent of commercially harvestable oysters occurred due to disease as a result of poor water quality. Since then, strict environmental regulations have been implemented to improve water quality in the system which, along with salinity and temperature regimes, suggests that the Pensacola Bay System could be a very productive oyster harvest area. In 2005, the EPA cited a lack of suitable substrate as a major factor in the slow recovery of oyster populations in the area.

Oyster reef restoration is essential to returning our estuaries to the thriving ecosystems they once were. DEP utilizes recycled oyster shell from several partner restaurants in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties as a hard substrate for oyster reef development.

Since 2011, we have partnered with Keep Pensacola Beautiful to collect discarded shells from area restaurants. DEP selects sites for the for restoration utilizing these recycled shells. Funding to Keep Pensacola Bay is through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company (Gulf Power is the local subsidiary).

Last Modified:
February 12, 2024 - 10:19am

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