St. Charles Bay – Oyster Reef Creation and Shoreline Stabilization

John Blaha
St. Charles Bay – Oyster Reef Creation and Shoreline Stabilization
Photo by Lisa Laskowski.

Habitat restoration and creation is an important piece in the continuing efforts of CCA Texas to ensure that Texas's coastal resources are healthy and available for generations to come. Habitat restoration and creation opportunities are executed in many different ways including oyster reef creation and restoration, marsh creation and protection, shoreline stabilization, and nearshore and offshore reefing. CCA Texas and its habitat program, Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow (HTFT), work with several like organizations, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), and institutions such as Harte Research Institute to bring these projects to reality.

In May 2016, CCA Texas funded $75,000 for an oyster reef creation project in St. Charles Bay. This project will create 2,000 linear feet of oyster reef along the western shoreline. This shallow, subtidal oyster reef will be oriented parallel to the eroding marsh shoreline along the Big Tree Unit of Goose Island State Park. Oysters grow vertically into reefs that provide complex, three-dimensional habitats for reef-dependent organisms including small fish and crustaceans. In turn, the organisms and crustaceans attract juvenile fish and larger crustaceans that use oyster reefs for foraging and predator refuge. With the presence of juvenile fish and larger crustaceans, sportfish favorites such as speckled trout, redfish and flounder are then drawn in and create what will be an easily accessible fishing spot for local recreational anglers. An equally important benefit of this reef is that it will provide natural protection for coastal marsh habitat, benefiting a wide range of species that depend on coastal marsh for food and shelter, including shorebirds, water birds, and the endangered whooping crane. This area has lost two acres of marsh in the last 20 years and this project will provide a unique opportunity to restore oyster reef habitat in a way that will protect the marsh, enhance the estuarine ecosystem, and benefit sportfishing activities.

"Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the Harte Research Institute are excited to partner with CCA Texas on this important oyster reef restoration project in St. Charles Bay," commented Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Jennifer continued, "The living shoreline will create fish habitat, enhance recreational fishing opportunities, and protect critical water bird habitat at Goose Island State Park."

This new reef site will be created by using reclaimed oyster shells from Coastal Bend restaurants and seafood wholesalers. The proposed project will occur in two phases: 1) oyster shells will be deployed into the water along the 1-meter depth contour using barges and excavators into linear reefs with dimensions of 1 yard wide by 30 yards long by 0.3 yard high; 2) oyster shells will be bagged and deployed into the shallow subtidal area directly adjacent to the shoreline as part of community-based habitat restoration events. The end result will be newly created fish and crustacean habitat, increased oyster and finfish populations, eroding marsh habitat will now be protected and sportfishing will be benefited.

"CCA Texas's Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow habitat program is excited to be a part of this project. As volunteers, it is exciting to see the monies raised by local chapters help create projects that will ensure our marine resources for future generations," commented Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow Committee Chairman, Jay Gardner. Gardner continued, "It is important for CCA Texas and other organizations to continue taking the lead in efforts such as this as development along the coast continues and the use of Texas coastal resources continues to grow at a rapid pace."