Florida Sea Grant is working in partnership with state agencies, the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, local counties and other groups to obtain funding necessary to tackle the primary recommendation of the Oyster Recovery Team’s report: the need for large-scale restoration to achieve recovery of the Apalachicola Bay oyster industry.
The first proposed project, led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has been funded for $4.19 million from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to conduct experimental oyster reef restoration across small-scale portions of the bay. The project is designed to test the benefits of re-shelling degraded oyster reef with varying densities of shells, at locations with different salinities, and under different rates of harvesting pressure.
From this project, researchers at Florida Sea Grant and the University of Florida will learn more about oyster larvae settlement, growth, rates of predation, parasitism and disease, and the quality and abundance of harvest-size oysters under the different experimental conditions. The scientific assessment component of this project, managed by Florida Sea Grant, will be conducted jointly with the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The re-shelling work will be coordinated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and enforcement of fishing regulations will be done by Florida Fish and Wildlife.
The second proposed project, led by the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, will be of a much larger spatial scale, and draw from the lessons learned in the initial project. It would aim to restore 1,000 acres of degraded reef habitat, and is seeking approximately $37 million in funding from The Restore Act, which sends fines from the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to the five Gulf of Mexico states.
This project is still is in the planning phase, with the grant proposal being developed by the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, UF/IFAS, the Emerging Pathogens Institute, Sea Grant, the Apalachicola Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida Fish and Wildlife, FDACS, and Gulf, Wakulla and Franklin counties.
In addition to restoration in Apalachicola Bay, the Restore Act proposal includes oyster restoration work in the adjacent counties, and a novel program to recycle oyster shells from restaurants throughout Florida back to Apalachicola, so they can be regularly used to replenish the oyster reefs.
As in the first project, the scientific assessment will be conducted jointly by Sea Grant, UF/IFAS and the Emerging Pathogens Institute. An oyster model developed by UF scientists indicates that if the large-scale bay restoration project is conducted, recovery time for oyster populations could be shortened from 10 to just 3 years, assuming that there is not another severe drought.
In a related effort, UF/IFAS and the Emerging Pathogens faculty continue to work with the seafood industry and community to help foster resilience and sustainable use of the bay, through their National Institutes of Health-funded project called Healthy Gulf / Healthy Communities.
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