The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues to improve and restore oyster reefs on the coast of Peach State, most recently in a public shellfish harvesting area in Glynn County.
In June, contractors working for MNR’s Coastal Resources Division (CRD) placed approximately 140 tonnes of bulk oyster shells in Jointer Creek, west of Jekyll Island. This brings the total oyster shells returned to Georgia estuaries over the past 14 months to 213 tonnes.
âOysters, in particular, are very important because they are ecosystem engineers who provide vital services in addition to being a harvested species,â said Cameron Brinton, marine biologist at CRD. âOysters help stabilize shorelines, improve water quality and create critical habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish.
CRD’s Habitat and Artificial Reefs program also receives significant support from ordinary Georgians, Brinton said. This support comes in the form of volunteers who help package the oyster shells for deployment, donate oyster shells to area restaurants and funds from non-profit organizations.
In recent months, CRD has focused on three specific projects in Glynn County: a new artificial reef on the Back River near the Torras Causeway containing 68 tonnes of oyster shells in 7,200 bags; 140 tonnes of loose shells in the Glynn County Public Shellfish Harvesting Area on Jointer Creek; and five tonnes of shellfish in the South Brunswick River near Blythe Island Regional Park.
âThe goal of this year’s projects was not only to create new reefs, but also to test new deployment methods,â said Brinton. âIn the Back River we used bagged oyster shells, a method we have used successfully at a number of sites, and at Jointer Creek and Blythe Island we used loose shells, which require less labor-intensive and have been used with great success in other states.
Although the Blythe Island site has only five tonnes to date, CRD marine biologists will return to the site and see how effective the free-shell deployment has been. If the reef is stable, CRD plans to add more seashells in the future.
All oyster deployment sites will be monitored over the next several years by examining several biological and physical parameters to ensure the reefs are stable and self-sustaining.
âThe first thing we look for is the establishment of juvenile wild oysters, called ‘spat’, which attach to the shell that we deploy and are the first sign the reef is starting to grow,â said Brinton. “Later, we measure the population size and density of adult oysters, and seasonally, we conduct aerial surveys to measure the reef footprint.”
A healthy reef should have an imprint that does not shrink. In established reefs, this is usually not a problem, Brinton said, but can be a challenge in newly established reefs due to sedimentation caused by Georgia’s eight-foot tidal cycle.
âWith over 3,400 miles of creeks and tidal rivers in Georgia, we have a lot of work ahead of us,â Brinton said. “If you would like to help us, support the restaurants that partner with us for shell recycling, donate the shell of your own roast oyster and consider getting a marine habitat conservation license plate. for your vehicle or trailer.
For more information on artificial reefs in Georgia, visit www.CoastalGaDNR.org.