By Veronica Del Bianco
Oyster reefs are amazing — they filter water, provide habitat, and protect the shoreline.
They are also endangered.
That is why The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners began restoring 3.4 miles of oyster reefs off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010, just weeks before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
Now, a year later, TNC is calling on the government to pass legislation to keep the BP fine money in the Gulf of Mexico to help continue coastal rehabilitation projects like oyster reef restoration.
Rehabilitation projects were needed long before oil washed up on the shores threatening the already fragile environment.
“Certainly, the oil spill was an insult to the system here, but the damage to the system has occurred over decades,” said Cindy Brown, director of TNC’s Gulf of Mexico Program. “However, the Gulf is not a lost cause. There is a lot of life here. It just needs a little help from us.”
According to a recent scientific report, 85 percent of reefs have been lost, making oyster reefs the most severely impacted marine habitat on the planet. Yet, there is hope in the northern Gulf of Mexico, because the condition of oyster reefs is still fair and the techniques to restore them already exist.
For example, as part of a shoreline protection project, TNC restored miles of oyster reefs at Grand Isle and St. Bernard Marsh using a triangular steel ReefBLK system. Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the project also created or maintained 57 jobs this year in coastal communities hit hard by the oil spill. Another project located in Vermilion Bay used cylindrical concrete oyster break reefs.
“The ultimate goal is to bring oyster restoration to scale, and restore the three-dimensional oyster reefs that existed historically.”
The benefits of three-dimensional oyster reefs are many: They absorb wave energy, protecting the shoreline, filtering water (which improves water quality), and creating an intricate habitat for more than 170 marine species including shrimp and crabs.
That’s a big job for such little critters.
Restoration and rehabilitation are the final chapter of the BP oil spill story. TNC encourages citizens to support the legislation to keep the BP fine money in the Gulf of Mexico — so oyster reef restoration in Louisiana can continue, as well as other coastal rehabilitation projects.
Photos courtesy The Nature Conservancy.