Gazebo Gazette

Two barge loads of oyster cultch material were deployed into the St. Louis Bay on September 4th.  Friday’s deployment will build upon a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Five Star and Urban Waters Restoration Program awarded to The Nature Conservancy to add an additional 5 acres to the existing oyster reef in the bay.

This deployment will not only add acreage, but it will also increase the height of the overall reef. Increasing the height of the reef will provide greater resilience during times of increased freshwater flows from the surrounding rivers, which often results in low oxygen levels that can severely limit oyster growth. Although commercial harvest in this part of St. Louis Bay is prohibited, the reef will provide good fisheries habitat, improve water quality conditions and potentially support oyster growth throughout the Mississippi Sound.

Secretary of State Michael Watson joined Alex Littlejohn and Tom Mohrman of The Nature Conservancy and DMR for the deployment.

“Incredible, growing up on the Coast and being around the oyster industry, life-long, to finally get a sense of what it’s like and the work that goes into spray the cultch into the water and to get beds ready. Really, a cool experience,” Watson said.

“About four or five months ago, we analyzed the reef to see what conditions were like, and actually through all the impacts, you name it, that have impacted the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we found that we had a fairly good footprint here, so we felt pretty confident to do what you see behind us,” said Alex Littlejohn, state director for The Nature Conservancy.

“One of the key parts is that these are non-harvestable, so making sure you look into the future so we are going to have larvae spread into the water column for years to come, and the oysters will remain,” Watson said. “It’s a repetitive cycle of getting larvae into the water columns and making sure we’ve got oysters all across the Coast.”

Over the next year, The Nature Conservancy plans to add another 150 barge loads of cultch material to this reef.

“This reef is gonna grow and give us all the conservation benefits that we know and love here, water quality, habitat for a numerous amount of sport fishes. I’ve always said one of the cool things about oysters is they’re the one species that is their own habitat, so there’s a number of other benefits there, too,” Littlejohn said.

This particular leg of the multi-faceted oyster restoration project is made possible by NFWF, The Southern Company/MS power, Leo Seal Foundation, and Colonial Pipeline.