In mid March, volunteers from SMRK began phase two of our Living Shoreline deployment, which was delayed in 2020 due to COVID. The process began with UNF students Hunter Mathews and Chris Kurtz collecting 100 gallons of oyster shells as part of the Oyster Shell Recycling program at Guana Tolomato National Estuarine Research Reserve in St. Johns County, FL. These shells are collected from participating restaurants and then recycled to reconstruct eroded shorelines.
Volunteers from SMRK collected the shells from Guana then traveled to UNF to collect 50+ crab traps, which UNF students had collected over the previous year. This tremendous trailer of traps was quite a site traveling north on I-95! After the journey, the traps were safely delivered to a staging location at White Oak for processing. Once the traps are ready for deployment, more volunteers will complete the living shoreline installation and the traps will have a new life as a sanctuary for oysters to grow.
SMRK volunteers and partners and gearing up for Phase II of its oyster restoration project in Fernandina Beach, FL. The living shoreline oyster reef was originally created in 2019 with recycled crab traps. Living Shorelines are made of natural materials that improve water quality, provide fisheries habitat, increase biodiversity and promote recreation. The original reef at Old Town has shown success in preventing erosion and growing new oysters. The group will be trying several different types of coatings on the 100 new traps this time, working in close partnership with scientists at UNF to test various models. May 1st is the target date to install the traps.
The initial reef is eroding, but still maintains some salt marsh vegetation and small scattered clusters of live oysters. Most of the oyster reef that previously protected the shoreline no longer remains, likely due to high energy from boat traffic traveling along the intercoastal waterway. In a high energy site like the Amelia River, a strong wave break dampens the wave energy to protect the marsh shoreline.
The 2019 Living Shoreline
The living shoreline oyster reef was constructed of derelict crab traps filled with oyster shells to function as a wave break. Its purpose is to halt or slow erosion of the marsh while simultaneously providing oyster habitat and restoring lost marsh vegetation.
Within the first two weeks of deployment, all deployed traps showed oyster recruitment. The small clusters of live oysters at the site provided excellent spat, and the site showed recruitment and growth throughout 2019 . Traps with plastic coating did not retain the concrete slurry and did not recruit as well. In future deployments, we will only use uncoated traps. Because the majority of derelict crab traps are now coated, collecting uncoated traps does present a challenge, however we do have 90 uncoated traps ready for future deployments.
As we continue this project, we will add more traps to the reef, including traps that are closer inshore in order to promote reestablishment of marsh vegetation. We will work in collaboration with the Kelly Smith lab at UNF and with support from the Northeast Coast Resilience Coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Commission. With the Kelly Smith Lab, we will deploy traps given different concrete slurry and oyster shell treatments to test for recruitment, and we will also deploy traps at differing distances below mean high water in order to research the best management practices for Spartina recruitment. Undergraduate students at UNF will conduct regular monitoring at the site, and local high schools will be involved in propagating and planting Spartina at the site.
In addition to environmental benefits, this project provided social and economic benefits. Our contracted project lead was a former commercial oysterman who we transitioned into the conservation world. We also provided a summer internship with these funds to a marine science student at Stetson University. Local eco tours also always stop in front of our site and explain to tourists its purpose and the importance of coastal resilience.
The project is currently supported by multiple partners who have pledged funding or volunteer support. Partners include Florida and Georgia Sea Grant, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA), the Ritz-Carlton, The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, CSX Corporation, The Amelia Island Sailing Club, Salt Life Food Shack, Fernandina Beach High School, and Hilliard Middle Senior High School, and the City of Fernandina Beach. Read more about the importance of oyster restoration from the Nature Conservancy.