Oyster shells needed for scientific research project
Fri, Mar 13 2009 at 3:31 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
Fried, stewed or nude, oysters are always an anticipated delicacy in coastal Georgia, especially once cooler weather hits. The star attraction on the fall and winter menus of local restaurants and the hit of backyard roasts, fresh, succulent oysters are a Georgia tradition and an integral part of coastal ecology.
Long before they were served with horseradish and crackers, oysters fulfilled much-needed ecological services — filtering impurities from the flowing water of coastal rivers and providing food, shelter, spawning grounds and nursery areas for marine and estuarine fish and other invertebrates.
But decades of overconsumption, pollution and declining habitat have decimated the once massive oyster reefs that dominated estuaries of every coastal state in the contiguous United States. Globally, scientists estimate an 85 percent loss of native oyster reef habitat.
When oysters spawn, the larvae they produce attach to a nearby solid surface, usually another oyster shell, explained Casey Sanders, a research technician with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service.
Sanders said that the process can form oyster reefs that can grow several feet high, but a big problem is the shells from harvested oysters have not been returned to the water, and the oysters' larvae fail to attach to a solid object and form new reefs.
Turning the tide
Coastal Georgia residents and proprietors of area restaurants and seafood markets can help turn the tide on a declining marine ecosystem by donating oyster shells to establish new oyster reefs. In other words, oyster lovers can have their shellfish and contribute to a good cause.
Adding to oyster shell recycling stations in Brunswick, Savannah and Jekyll Island, the Marine Extension Service recently established a new recycling station in Darien, Ga., at the Champney River boat landing on U.S. Highway 17, just north of the Glynn-McIntosh border. Clam, conch and whelk shells are also accepted at all the locations.
In cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Marine Extension Service is collecting oyster shells at the Darien site to use as part of a scientific experiment to test techniques to stabilize eroding creek banks on Sapelo Island.
Funded in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Living Shoreline Restoration Project is designed to implement and study various techniques for stabilizing eroding habitat, with consideration to the natural ecology of Georgia’s coastal environment. One technique is the creation of oyster reefs.
At least 30,000 pounds of shells are needed by spring 2009.
Ron Zeppieri, district governor for the Lions Club, has agreed to donate shells from the organization’s annual oyster roast fundraiser on Feb. 28, 2009, to the project. A popular event that attracts oyster lovers and Lions Club supporters from throughout the coastal region and as far away as Dublin, Ga., the roast generates about a ton of shells.
Next spring, volunteers and staff from The Nature Conservancy and partner organizations will spread the shells during mean low tide at two intertidal test sites on Sapelo Island. Scientists believe the shells will encourage the establishment of natural oyster reefs, thereby stabilizing the eroding channel habitat. Biodegradable mesh and native plants will be used to restore the upper portion of the eroding banks.
How you can help
For more information about donating oyster shells, contact Casey Sanders at (912) 264-7323, firstname.lastname@example.org or Jeff Spratt at (912) 437-2161, email@example.com.