Restored Oyster Reef to Provide Shoreline Protection
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A South Texas researcher is providing science support for a project led by The Nature Conservancy to rebuild and restore oyster populations at the historic Half Moon Reef, located in Matagorda Bay along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The scientific aspect of the project will be directed by Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Coordinator of the Fisheries and Mariculture Program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The Nature Conservancy project is being funded by a $1.2 million cost share agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is a critical phase of a larger $5.4 million project to restore upwards of 50 acres of the reef.
“Half Moon Reef was once one of the largest reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and it is almost gone,” said Pollack. “This restoration project will provide new habitat for oysters as well as fish, crabs, and other important marine life. We expect to observe ecosystem benefits within months of completion.”
Matagorda Bay is one of the largest estuaries in Texas and supports productive fisheries for blue crabs, oysters, and shrimp. However, several factors have had a devastating effect on the reef, including changes in freshwater inflow, the rerouting of the Intracoastal Waterway, and impacts from Hurricane Carla in 1961.
“Today 85 percent of the world's oyster reefs have disappeared, making oysters among the most imperiled marine species on earth,” said Pollack. “The good news is that the Gulf of Mexico is widely considered as the last, best hope for re-establishing sustainable oyster populations.”
In Texas, oysters represent a $30 million dollar a year industry and restoration efforts will benefit more than the restaurant industry. Restoration of Half Moon Reef will provide a natural barrier to protect the shoreline from storms and serve as the foundation for a healthy ecosystem.
“Oysters play an important role in the health of the estuary by improving water quality through filtration,” said Pollack. “Once the reef is completed, the structure will encourage small fish and other marine organisms to call the reef their home.”
She says that the presence of small fish will provide food for larger sport fish, leading to robust commercial and recreational fisheries.
Pollack and her team of researchers will monitor the reef and its progress for the next five years, paying special attention to the abundance and diversity of reef residents and how salinity levels in the bay are affecting the organisms. Success will be measured against historic and natural oyster reef populations.
Restoration of Half Moon Oyster Reef began in October as 93,600 tons of limestone floated down the Mississippi River. This limestone will be used to build a 40-acre complex structure in November and December, and will be an ideal habitat for oysters to attach to. In the project’s second phase, the U.S. Army Corps will aid in the restoration by adding 12 acres to the reef structure.
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