Oil spill settlement fund to help restore FL oyster reefs

By Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Connection

Damage from storms, pollution and other factors – some of which are linked to climate change – are reducing the oyster population. But Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement funds in 2010 are now available to restore oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts estimate that the Gulf lost between four and eight billion oysters to the massive oil spill and experienced reproductive loss in the years that followed.

However, researcher Ryan Gandy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission said oysters aren’t just living creatures, they’re habitat too. So bringing them back also brings back a whole ecosystem.

“Focusing on the Suwannee Sound area,” said Gandy, “we are looking at the possibility of rebuilding some of the bars or some of the oysters in the area providing resilience to these oysters.”

The oyster work is part of a nearly $ 100 million payment to also help restore sea turtles, marine mammals and birds. This is the first in a series of oil spill recovery plans in the Gulf region.

Chad Hanson, chief scientist for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said most people enjoy half-shell oysters at their local seafood restaurant, but don’t realize the small shellfish filter up to 50 gallons of water per day – improving water quality by removing pollutants, sediment and other particles.

“So an oyster creates a reef,” Hanson said. “It’s almost like a coral reef in its ecological significance. Oysters are habitat engineers, and this reef creates habitat and this habitat has a bunch of ecosystem services.”

However, Hanson said the sad news is that oysters have experienced a massive decline over the past two decades. About 80 to 90 percent of oyster reefs have disappeared globally.

But he said he hoped the nearly $ 40 million from federal and state officials earmarked for new or improved reefs to help seashells reproduce and thrive, would help transform their ecosystems.

Support for this report was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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