Community works to restore oyster beds in Brevard County
The Indian River Lagoon has had its problems over the past year with the mysterious deaths of native wildlife, but a bright spot has emerged thanks to some local biologists and thousands of volunteers.
Jody Palmer is the outreach coordinator for the oyster restoration project -- a partnership between the University of Central Florida, Brevard Zoo, and Nature Conservancy.
The project started in 2005 when officials from the Canaveral National Seashore reached out to UCF biology professor Dr. Linda Walters about an oyster shortage they'd been seeing in the Indian River Lagoon. From there, Walters created a way to restore the oyster beds as environmentally friendly as possible.
"She came up with the oyster mat. It's a quarter meter square and it's mesh. It doesn't break-down any chemicals or leech anything into the environment," said Palmer.
Connected together, the mats then attract free-floating baby oysters. They then settle and produce the backbone of a new, healthy reef within as little as a years time.
Since the project has started, Palmer says that over 30,000 volunteers have had more than 36,000 oyster mats -- restoring 58 reefs.
Palmer said, "What we do is we make these mats out in the community and then we take those same volunteers into the lagoon and they actually build the reefs too."
Oysters are known as a keystone species, meaning they play a critical role in a balanced ecosystem, but they can also be a tasty meal for seafood lovers. That's why some local seafood restaurants are beginning to recycle the leftover shells.
"Why put them in a landfill when you can put them back out into the lagoon and they can provide a habitat because without this place for them to live the baby oysters don't have a place to go," said Palmer.
Most of the restoration has been happening in the northern part of the lagoon, but Palmer says she is hoping to stretch the project throughout the entire 156-mile estuary.