HOUSTON – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has begun distributing more than 79,000 cubic yards of oyster reef building materials (known as clutch) over eight sites on four natural, publicly owned oyster reefs in Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake.
This work is part of ongoing efforts to restore oyster reefs impacted by hurricanes, reduced freshwater inflows, hydrologic alterations, diseases, predators, heavy commercial fishing pressure and other natural and man-made stressors. Starting in April and continuing until August, cultch materials (river rock and/or crushed limestone) will be spread over 180 acres in Galveston Bay and 25 acres in Sabine Lake.
Oyster reefs selected for cultch plantings are: Middle Reef, Pepper Grove Reef and Hannah’s Reef in East Bay and the large Sabine Reef in Sabine Lake.
The Galveston Bay project alone will be the largest oyster restoration work in Texas history, breaking TPWD’s 2011 record of 175 acres. Together these two projects, covering 205 acres, represent the most area restored by any conservation organization in one year in Texas. Clutch plantings will attract oyster larvae that will settle on the reef and grow into adult oysters. That will help re-establish these previously productive oyster reefs.
The majority of the work, which will cost about $4.7 million, is being funded through a grant to TPWD from the Coastal Impact Assessment Program, a federal program that distributes fees from offshore oil and gas leases to states which have leases off their coasts. Additional project funding was provided by Coastal Conservation Association Texas, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the NFWF Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
In addition to benefitting the commercial oyster industry, this work will result in numerous environmental benefits.
One of the primary ecological functions of oyster reefs is water filtration. Oysters feed by filtering tiny plants known as phytoplankton from the water, with a single oyster capable of filtering up to 50 gallons a day. This filter feeding also removes silt and contaminants from the water, making oyster reefs natural bio-filters.
Oyster reefs also provide habitat for numerous bottom-dwelling fish and invertebrates. These, in turn, are food for larger game fish, a food chain that benefits commercial and recreational activities.
Prior to this year’s oyster restoration work, TPWD restored 30 acres on Dollar Reef, Galveston Bay, in 2013; 175 acres on six Galveston Bay reefs in 2011; five acres off San Leon, Galveston Bay, in 2009-2010, and 20 acres on Middle Reef in East Bay in 2009.
As TPWD has previously done when restoration occurs, the East Bay reefs will be closed to commercial oyster fishing for two years. The Sabine Lake reef is located in waters that are permanently closed to commercial oyster harvest due to pollution concerns.