HOUSTON — Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has received a $50,000 grant from the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continue and expand oyster reef restoration in Galveston Bay.
The grant will help fund Phase 2 of the North Shore Eagle Point Oyster Restoration Project, located along the north facing shoreline of Eagle Point near the community of San Leon. Phase 1 of the project created seven patches of oyster reef in shallow near-shore waters between 18th and 15th streets in San Leon, including two patches adjacent to the 18th Street Fishing Pier. Phase 2 will extend the project to the shallow near shore waters between 15th and 9th Streets.
Like the first phase completed in September, Phase 2 will restore at least 2.5 acres of oyster reef habitat, divided up into several smaller patches of reef habitat. The purpose is to improve recreational fishing in the area and to provide other “ecosystem services” from oyster reefs.
The reefs will be located near privately owned piers and in waters currently closed to commercial oyster fishing due to high bacteria counts. The project will seek to enlist local pier owners to act as stewards of the newly created reefs and to grow baby oysters by hanging mesh bags filled with oyster shells from their piers, a process known as “oyster gardening.” Gardened oysters will be deposited on top of the reefs after construction is completed to quickly establish an oyster population. None of the oysters produced by the project will be used for human consumption.
One of the primary ecological functions of oyster reefs is water filtration. Oysters feed by filtering tiny plants known as phytoplankton from the water, and a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. This filter feeding also removes silt and contaminants from the water, thus making oyster reefs nature’s bio-filters. Oyster reefs also provide habitat for numerous bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrates which are in turn food for larger game fish. Scientists refer to these various functions of oyster reefs, including providing product for the commercial fishing industry, as “ecosystem services”.
In addition to SARP and NOAA, TPWD has partnered with the Galveston Bay Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment Trustees (an ad hoc group comprised of representatives from NOAA, USFWS, TPWD, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas General Land Office) on this project and will continue to look for opportunities to continue this type of work in the future. SARP is a coalition of state and federal government agencies operating in the southeastern United States.