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Oyster 'gardening' restores reefs after hurricane

In Texas, neighbors experiment with oyster gardening to help rebuild reefs damaged by Hurricane Ike.

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"We want to re-establish the oyster reefs that used to be near our shore years ago," says Greg Tate, another home-owner participating in the $92,000 project, which began at the end of June. "We see the new reefs as a foundation so that future generations can enjoy the bay."

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The mesh bags — now filled with thriving baby oysters — were used to seed artificial oyster reefs formed from tons of river rock dumped around the piers.

These reefs are being formed within 200 feet of residential piers, which makes them off-limits to commercial fishing.

Another benefit of an oyster reef could be improved recreational fishing, says Bill Rodney, an oyster restoration biologist in charge of the San Leon project.

"There's a lot of creatures living on oyster reefs that attract fish from sea trout to red drum," he says.

But most importantly, authorities say, the oysters are critical for cleaning the water. "You can't lose that much biofiltration and not have a decline in Galveston Bay's water quality," says Lance Robinson, a regional director for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Another oyster restoration project is a 20-acre artificial reef recently created from nine bargeloads of river rock poured into East Bay — the hardest-hit area, where 80 percent of the reefs were smothered.

In addition, nearly $3 million has been set aside to pay commercial anglers in May to rake their dredges over the buried reefs in hopes of pulling oyster shell back to the surface while also adding some artificial reef material.

The artificial reef in East Bay was completed a week ago by spreading 13,000 cubic yards of river rock over 20 acres in 9-foot-deep waters between Port Bolivar in Galveston County and Smith Point in Chambers County.

"We're letting it sit to see what happens. We've already started to see some spat (small larvae) adhering to buoys that we have out there," says Jennie Rohrer, an oyster restoration biologist overseeing the $720,000 East Bay project.

The Peytons, meanwhile, talk about catching a 24-inch red fish off their pier recently, while noting flocks of pelicans and a pod of porpoises have seemed to find plenty of food out there.

"I believe we can get a good reef going in two years," Mrs. Peyton says.

Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.