Efforts underway to restore oyster reefs thanks to public-private partnership

Efforts to restore oyster reefs along the Gulf Coast are moving forward thanks to a public-private partnership.

Off the coast of Bay St. Louis, an oyster reef is getting an infusion of life. A high-pressure water canon is spraying limestone cultch to expand the size and height of the reef, increasing it by five acres.Secretary of State Michael Watson’s office oversees the Tidelands fund.

“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.

Adding cultch to the reef will allow oyster larvae to grow and spread throughout the Mississippi Sound and increase resiliency when fresh water from rivers creates low oxygen levels.“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 put another 100-120 barge loads of cultch 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.