Week 2: Friday June 1, 2012
Friday at The Nature Conservancy Camp on Grand Isle, while Jean Landry took half the group on a woods walking tour, Seth Blitch took the other half of the group to go see their oyster restoration projects on the bay-side of the island. I went on the walking tour first but I couldn’t wait until the oyster tour. In high school I spent two years doing research on Crassostrea virginica oysters (about how ocean acidification was affecting their induced defenses that occur when blue crabs come near), and I felt overwhelmingly excited to learn more about them.
Although I researched them for two years, I truthfully didn’t know that much about them in the wild. Don’t get me wrong, I knew a lot about them, but I knew what I learned by communicating with an oyster farmer and restoration scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Tommy Leggett, and reading tons of peer-reviewed articles I read online. I kept a total of 160 oysters in tanks over two years, but learning about something in a laboratory feels much different than learning it by experiencing it in the organism’s natural habitat.
So we took a boat out to the oyster restoration areas and tied it off to a bush on the marsh there. I was surprised the boat could run in such shallow waters because when we got out, the water was just above my knees. The oyster reefs are made out of interlocking steel welded triangles filled with bags of oyster shells, a restoration technique proved successful in Texas. On Grand Isle and the other oyster restoration site in St. Bernard Parish, these structures cover 3.4 miles.
It’s hoped that the oyster larvae will attach to these structures and eventually a healthy reef will exist again. When we saw the reef though, it looked like progress has been slow. The first group out saw no live oysters, but my group found a few (they got to see dolphins though, so I think it’s more than a fair trade). We couldn’t see what the reefs look like below the murky water, so hopefully there were more there. We found a ton of hermit crabs, one blue crab, and one oyster drill. Many oysters that were attaching to the steel structures were being eaten by the oyster drills, so we made sure not to put the drill back onto the reef after we looked at it.
Once these reefs have restored themselves, they’ll help filter the water and provide homes to valuable marine life. Hopefully anyone who comes back in a few years will see a lot more oysters on the reefs!