Group trying to save Galveston Bay's oyster reefs

September 6, 2012 4:46:05 PM PDT
You've heard the phrase, "The world is your oyster." But for Galveston Bay, the oyster is its world, so saving the oyster reefs has become the pearl project of one local foundation.

From shorebirds to sea life, preservation of one of the world's most productive estuaries is paramount.

"Galveston Bay produces oysters and shrimp and blue crabs more than any other place in the state of Texas," Galveston Bay Foundation President Bob Stokes said.

Stokes says 2008 was a turning point for the bay.

"Unfortunately, we had about 50 or 60 percent of our oyster reefs damaged or destroyed by the sediment that got stirred up from Hurricane Ike," Stokes said.

That meant big trouble for the bay's ecology.

"The fact that they can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day for one individual oyster," said Matthew Abernathy with the Galveston Bay Foundation.

They are nature's filtration system, removing silt and contaminants from the water. They also serve as habitat for fish and invertebrates. But with more than half the reefs destroyed by Ike, something had to be done.

"The purpose of this project is to enhance and help reestablish healthy oyster reefs in Galveston Bay," Abernathy said.

Matthew Abernathy leads the restoration program through a process called oyster gardening. It begins here at Tommy's Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Clear Lake.

"We go through a bout 6,000 oysters a week," the restaurant's owner Tom Tollett said.

Tollett is the pearl of this project. He supports the program by recycling his shells.

"We take them and we put them in bins so that the Galveston Bay Foundation can come and pick the oysters up," he said.

The shells are transported to Texas City, where they sit in the sun for six months. The process is called sun bleaching. It removes unwanted bacteria and organisms from the shells. Then, they're bagged and prepped for gardening.

"And we take bags, mesh bags full of oyster shell like this and we hang it off of piers out here in the bay. And what it does is this provides a hard substrate for the oyster larvae to attach to," Abernathy said.

Young oysters develop on the recycled shells and when they're large enough, they're placed into the bay to repopulate the reefs.

"We want to bring life back to these oyster beds. We say these beds are ours. They actually belong to the state," Buddy Schultz said.

Nearly 20 bagged shells are hanging from Schultz's pier at Pelican Rest Marina. He's hoping the reefs in his area will show signs of life once again.

But there's one thing to keep in mind about these oysters.

"The oyster restoration projects and these near shore oyster reefs that we're working on in Galveston Bay are not for public consumption," Abernathy said.

These oysters are grown solely for the purpose of enhancing habitat creation, water quality and shoreline protection -- all for the benefits of improving this beautiful Texas gem called Galveston Bay.

The Galveston Bay Foundation is hoping to get more restaurants participating in this oyster gardening program.


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