GTM NERR Community Oyster Shell Recycling and Living Reef Restoration Project
February 2012 - January 2014
The nearshore of the Guana Peninsula along the Tolomato River in northeast Florida has provided welcoming habitat for the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, over the centuries as documented through findings of large oyster shell middens from pre-Columbian occupation of the area, and from historical record through the late 20th century.
In recent years the frequency and density of oyster reefs in the area have dwindled significantly. As in many coastal and estuarine areas, the impacts of over-harvesting, the expansion of human occupancy near the waterways, water pollution, increasing wave action as a result of river traffic, dredging along the Intracoastal Waterway, climate change and sea level rise have reduced the habitat compatibility for these important shellfish and associated species.
The value of oysters goes far beyond their place in the diet of humans and many animal species. Oyster reefs provide protective important shelter and nursery habitat for many fish and invertebrate species, protect nearby shorelines from erosion, and help to reduce suspended particulates and turbidity within the water column by feeding on phytoplankton and suspended detritus. The disappearance of oyster reef along the southern portion of the Guana Peninsula has created a domino effect of environmental destruction, with the elimination of the reefs contributing to the breakdown of the Spartina alterniflora salt marsh, and the disappearance of spartina allowing shoreline erosion to eat away at the upland habitat as well.
The responsible management of the reserve's diverse habitats, plants and animals is a primary role of the GTM NERR, including restoration and conservation of habitat to support the reserve's resident plants and animals which include more than 1,300 species. Of these species, eight plants and 48 animal species have been listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. Included in the fragile species found in the GTM NERR estuaries which could benefit from the restoration of oyster reef nursery habitat are Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum - endangered), Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus, candidate for listing), and the Opossum pipefish (Micropphis brachyurus, species of concern).
Project Partners: Friends of the GTM Reserve, GTM NERR, and St. Johns Technical High School, St. Johns County School District.
The project site is at the southern shoreline of the Tolomato River on the Guana Peninsula in northeastern St. Johns County, Florida. The site is within the Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve which is a portion of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, is within the GTM NERR watershed, and is publicly owned by the State of Florida. Coordinates: 81 20 10W, 30 00 09N, 81 19 59W, 30 00 02N
Target species: Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica.
The site includes 1.8 acres of declining saltmarsh which is located inland from the reef placement site, and will be included in the spartina planting in this project for marsh restoration.
Cap’s on the Water
Matanzas Inlet Restaurant
South Beach Grill
The proposed project entails three distinct components: 1) Establishing an oyster shell recycling program for St. Johns County, Florida; 2) Hands-on community education and outreach with the St. Johns County Technical High School; and 3) Placement of oyster shell to construct a living shoreline at the GTM NERR, as well as planting spartina grass within the boundaries of the new reef to further protect the shoreline and provide nursery habitat for marine species. Evaluation of the success of each of the project components will be included in the project.
The monitoring plan for the project will be developed and overseen to completion by Dr. Michael Shirley, Environmental Administrator, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Progress in establishing the community oyster shell recycling program will be monitored by the Project Coordinator and Dr. Shirley.
Success of the project will be determined through analyses of data gathered in the monitoring process from both baseline and post-restoration of the constructed reef and nearby natural reefs using the following response variables: Settlement of oyster larvae; Macroinvertebrate community structure; Survival of planted marsh grass;
Retention or enhancement of the constructed reefs horizontal and vertical footprint.
The living shoreline site will be maintained by GTM Reserve staff after completion of the project.
Project Goals / Intended outcome(s):
- Restore shellfish habitat to sustain and improve ecological benefits and ecosystem services
- Improve habitat hydrology and riparian areas of estuarine and inshore habitats to benefit threatened and endangered marine species or species of concern associated with the watershed
- Establish an oyster recycling program for the GTM NERR region
- Provide educational and community service opportunity for St. Johns Technical High School students
- Restore 0.76 acres of spartina habitat and 0.071 acres of oyster habitat adjacent to 1.8 acres of eroding saltmarsh and 1.16 acres of eroding benthic habitat for a total of restoration/protection of 3.79 acres along 1075 linear feet of coastline
- Establish an on-going community oyster shell recycling program in St. Johns County to provide shell for oyster reef restoration projects, with initial participation by a minimum of four restaurants and eventual participation by 70 percent of restaurants selling oysters
- Increase restaurant and public awareness of the value of recycling oyster shell by producing and distributing materials and media coverage
- Train management and staff of participating restaurants in the benefits and established procedures for recycling oyster shell
- Demonstrate the effectiveness of utilizing living shorelines to prevent area shoreline erosion as demonstrated by measurement of erosion at the project site and at a control site on the Guana Peninsula
- Develop strong partnerships in the community and education sector to assist and support future living shoreline projects as demonstrated by recruitment, training and deployment of a minimum of 10 volunteers, and the training and deployment of 25 students involved in oyster reef construction and spartina planting
This project will address SARP objectives to conserve, restore, and create coastal estuarine and marine habitats; reduce the percentage of Southeast Coast and Gulf Coast estuarine areas rated as being in poor condition with respect to benthic habitat quality to 8% and 14%, respectively; and to improve or maintain water quality.
For more information please contact: Lauren Flynn, Project Coordinator
Linda Krepp, Career Specialist at St. Johns Technical High School, will act as co-Principal Investigator to the project.