The Nature Conservancy is working to restore a "once-massive" Texas oyster reef that has almost disappeared.
"Today 85 percent of the world's oyster reefs have disappeared, making oysters among the most imperiled marine species on earth," Doctor Jennifer Pollack, lead researcher on the project from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, said in a Nature Conservancy news release. "The good news is that the Gulf of Mexico is widely considered as the last, best hope for a full comeback."
Crews will install three miles of limestone reef stretching seven or eight feet below the surface of the, Matagorda Bay, which is one of the largest estuary in Texas.
"This really is an innovative approach to oyster reef construction," Mark Dumesnil, associate director of coastal restoration for The Nature Conservancy in Texas, said of the unique design of the reef and its wide realm of benefits. "When you have healthy oyster reefs, you have excellent habitat for small fish and other reef-dependent species, reliable food for bigger fish and water filtration. All of that leads to healthier commercial and recreational fisheries, a first line of defense against storms and hurricanes, cleaner water and a more resilient ecosystem overall."
The artificial reef is expected to create the perfect environment of crevices and caves to support oysters along with a number of other native aquatic species.
In the early 1900s the reef is believed to have been 400 acres long, but local events have caused it to shrink drastically. A log jam on the Colorado River in the 1930s catapulted sediment downstream into the reef. In 1961 Hurricane Carla also devastated the area.
Oyster shells were a popular ingredient in construction material in the early 20th century, causing an over-harvesting of oyster species and additional damage to the reef. Researchers hope to restore this crucial area through the construction of the new reef.
"Matagorda is one of the largest estuaries in Texas-the freshwater that enters into the bay from Texas rivers and streams is crucial to its health," Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy said. "We already know the reef can withstand drought conditions but what we want to test is whether it will help the entire bay system better tolerate periods of drought and low freshwater flows."
"If we can prove that, this work will have relevancy for coastal cities struggling to manage their marine resources amid drier conditions and scarcer freshwater supplies worldwide," she said.