OceanWise helps support stewardship of the GTM Research Reserve’s landscape. Shoreline erosion along the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway has been identified as an ongoing issue within the Reserve. Storm surges and increased waves due to boat wakes threaten the stability of the shorelines and the edges of the marsh. In response to these threats, experimental gabions were placed in the subtidal zone in order to dissipate wave energy before it hits the shoreline.
In addition, oyster health is in decline worldwide. It is estimated that oyster populations have been reduced by 85 percent globally. Oysters are a keystone species within the estuarine ecosystem and provide a number of critical ecosystem services such as filtering nutrients from the water column and food for shorebirds and marine animals. Reefs are habitat for numerous fish and marine invertebrates. Oyster reefs also break up wave energy that would otherwise contribute to marsh or shoreline erosion.
The Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves has developed an oyster reef restoration project on Wright’s Landing along the peninsula of the GTM Research Reserve. Here in 2012, thirty-eight oyster reefs were installed by GTM volunteers. These reefs were constructed with bagged oyster shell collected from local restaurants as part of the oyster shell recycling program. Oyster spat settled on the loose shell, and over time, the reefs became encrusted with live oysters. Monitoring has been conducted on these reefs and has shown that biodiversity has significantly increased around the reefs.
Spartina alterniflora (Smooth cordgrass) is the dominant vegetation in the low marsh area within the Reserve. When conditions in the marsh lead to erosion, the Spartina is lost, which continues a cycle of shoreline loss. Transplanting Spartina plugs aids in the recovery of impacted areas and facilitates a more rapid recolonization of the vegetation community. Plugs of Spartina are harvested from healthy donor marsh within the Reserve and planted behind shoreline restoration treatments. The roots and rhizomes of the Spartina bind the soil in place, preventing further erosion. Furthermore, the vegetative portion of the plant dissipates wave energy and encourages the accretion of additional sediments, resulting in greater resiliency of the marsh.