Oyster beds being restored after oil spill

2011-01-25 17:23
Kim Weems prepares bags of oyster shells to be placed in Alabama's Mobile Bay as part of a project by The Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups to restore oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. (Brian Skoloff, AP)

Kim Weems prepares bags of oyster shells to be placed in Alabama's Mobile Bay as part of a project by The Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups to restore oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. (Brian Skoloff, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Mobile - Volunteers from across America are rebuilding oyster reefs along the Gulf of Mexico's delicate shoreline, hoping to revive oyster beds under assault for decades from overharvesting, coastal development, pollution, and most recently the BP oil spill.

The waters harbour much of the world's last remaining productive natural oyster beds, but BP PLC's April 20 oil well blowout dumped millions of litres of crude into the Gulf and dealt yet another blow to the once bountiful habitat.

This past weekend, volunteers descended on Mobile Bay with 23 000 bags of oyster shells aimed at eventually creating 160km of new oyster reefs near the shoreline.

The goal is to help replenish oyster reefs that promote new growth, help protect delicate salt marshes and sea grasses, and act like coral in the tropics to provide habitat for numerous marine species.

It's one of the first coastal restoration projects since the oil spill sent thick crude washing into estuaries and onto beaches.

Bright spot

Biologist Rob Brumbaugh of The Nature Conservancy, which helped organise the event, said studies show that the world has already lost 85% of its natural oyster reefs, but the Gulf of Mexico remains a bright spot, even after the oil spill.

"Certainly the oil spill was a wake-up call and a serious impact that we have to recover from, but frankly, there's been 100 years or more of oyster reefs and salt marsh and sea grass loss," he said. "That's the larger thing that we're trying to recover from and set a new course."

About 350 volunteers came to lay 4.5kg bags of oyster shells in a neat line several metres high on mud flats about 45m offshore to create new reefs across Mobile Bay.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service contributed about $70 000 to the project, which was approved before the oil spill but was delayed until the waters were relatively clear of crude.

Funding also came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and donations. The total cost is expected to be about $100m, and it likely will take up to five years to complete if funding continues.

Brumbaugh said the oysters also help keep waterways clean. Each oyster can filter up to 190l of water a day.

"If you remove all these oysters from the estuaries, you've essentially unplugged the aquarium. It's like turning off your pool filter and expecting it to stay in good shape," he said.

Pollution, overharvesting

Chesapeake Bay oysters also have been devastated and are at only about 1% or 2% of their historic highs, hit by years of disease, pollution and overharvesting.

Oysters along the entire Gulf Coast were hit hard in the spill's aftermath, prompting closures and delays of harvesting seasons that are part of the region's economic lifeblood.

Louisiana saw scores of oyster die-offs from the oil, in part because officials flooded some areas with fresh water to try to keep crude out of sensitive bays and estuaries.

That upset the balance of fresh and salt water, killing oysters. In Mississippi, oyster mortality rates were so high after the spill, the state did not allow a dredging season for the first time in more than 20 years.

It instead opted for a limited tonging season, a much more laborious process of culling oysters from the sea floor by hand using a rake. State officials have said it's unclear if the oyster deaths were directly caused by the oil or a combination of factors, including unusually warm summer waters.

As much as 65% of the nation's oysters come from the Gulf.

"It's just time we start doing something more to reverse the problem," said Dan Everson of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who helped with the Mobile oyster reef restoration project this weekend.

Wetlands projects

A US presidential panel created to investigate the oil spill recently recommended that 80% of fines and penalties eventually levied against responsible parties, a number that will likely be in the billions of dollars, be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.

Casi Callaway, executive director of the environmental group Mobile Baykeeper, said the spill's aftermath could have a bright spot: More money dedicated to wetlands projects and other efforts.

"The oil disaster was big, the biggest environmental disaster in our country," Callaway said. "But what we have with these ideas is an opportunity to create some of the biggest environmental restoration projects in our country."
Read more on:    bp  |  us  |  environment  |  us oil slick  |  marine life

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Miley Cyrus can’t get enough of her new puppy

Miley's new dog is too adorable.



13 guilty pets
Meet SA's top poacher-catcher
The unusual pets of Instagram
Bertie sets a new world record!

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts

Plant some seeds. Your innovative mind is on fire and your ingenious ideas may just be the seeds for future projects. You may meet...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.