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Oyster Restoration
Oyster Reef

Naples Bay has lost 80% of its oysters since the 1950s due to dredging for navigation and development projects.  In an effort to restore some of this vital habitat, Natural Resources staff have successfully completed several oyster restoration projects employing a few different techniques.  One technique is filling mesh bags with shell and deploying them on the bay bottom to provide hard substrate which juvenile oysters need in order to attach themselves.  Over time, more and more juvenile oysters attach to these bags and a reef is formed. 

Several deployments of shell bags have been made using volunteers from the community.  In 2005, approximately 400 shell bags were deployed at 2 sites in Naples Bay by Florida Gulf Coast University, the City of Naples and volunteers which was funded through the South Florida Water Management District, Big Cypress Basin.  The southern site, south of Haldeman Creek, has experienced significant recruitment onto the shell bags over the past 6 years.  Many live adult oysters have been observed on the bags and documented through photos.  The northern site, which is closer to the freshwater influence of the Golden Gate Canal, has experienced less recruitment and oyster growth than the southern site. The northern site is also a bit deeper than the southern site perhaps making it more susceptible to low dissolved oxygen levels in the summer when stratification is at its highest in Naples Bay.
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Volunteers filling bags with shell                                       Shell bags deployed in bay

The southern site has been supplemented several times with oyster bags in an effort to replace those that get buried in the sediment and to build up the reef further to allow for more juvenile oysters to attach themselves. In April, 2010, an additional reef was built using 400 shell bags deployed with the help of the Boy Scouts. In April, 2011, a third reef was created at the same southern site with the help of the Boys and Girls Club. All 3 reefs are now covered with both adult and juvenile oysters.

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Another successful effort utilized oyster gardening where residents volunteered to grow juvenile oysters in cages under their docks for seven months in 2010 until the oysters were two inches or greater in size. Twenty residents participated and over 1,000 adult oysters were planted onto one of the created reefs as a result of this effort. This allowed this reef a jump start by seeding it with adult oysters which will then attract other oysters to settle there.

What the created reef looks like today

The most recent effort involving oysters was a year-long research project that began in November 2010 and ended in November 2011. We know where our oyster reefs are, but don't have a good handle on how healthy and alive they are; therefore a quantitative assessment of existing oyster reef health in Naples Bay was conducted at four sites. These four sites range from the Gordon River to just north of Bay View Park. Multiple parameters were investigated including the prevalence of the parasite, Perkinsus marinus. This is a common parasite in oysters and if infection is high, it can wipe out an oyster reef. Intensity of infection will be compared between sites as well as to other sites in Florida. Other parameters investigated include: shell length, weight, and meat biomass of oysters as well as recruitment rates, living density, and growth rates at each site. The ultimate goal is linking this oyster data with water quality data (dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature) to identify other potential restoration sites within Naples Bay.

Natural Resources and Boy Scout Troop 165 build an oyster reef in Naples Bay

Jason Anderson, of Naples Boy Scout Troop 165, contacted Dr. Bauer and the Natural Resources Division regarding ideas for a project he could carry out in order to earn his Eagle Scout rank. The Division suggested the building of an oyster reef to help improve the water quality in Naples Bay. Jason coordinated the work involved in the creation of the reef with the Division and the members of his troop. Each of 400 bags were filled with 25 pounds of mined oyster shells and then placed in Naples Bay on Saturday, June 23, 2012 to facilitate the creation of an oyster reef.

Oysters are nature’s filter feeders and help clean up the bay by straining its waters of pollution. The addition of the 400 shell bags into Naples Bay will provide a surface for baby oysters to attach to which will form a living oyster reef.

This project would not have been possible without the coordination and volunteers of not only Boy Scout Troop 165, but also the donation of time and equipment from local marine construction company, Garland and Garland.

June 23, 2012 Eagle Scout Project
Photo courtesy of Naples Daily News

View all photos on Naples Daily News