Texas Parks and Wildlife and CCA Texas Partner on 180 Acre Oyster Reef Restoration Project

John Blaha
Texas Parks and Wildlife and CCA Texas Partner on 180 Acre Oyster Reef Restoration Project
A very strong current has already been created between Vinson Slough and Cedar Bayou. Photo by Lisa Laskowski
Across the world it is estimated that 85% of oysters have been lost since the late 1800s. Oysters are an important part of a healthy and sustainable ecosystem. A single healthy oyster can filter roughly 1.3 gallons of water per hour. Oysters are the natural filters of the ecosystems and a healthy oyster system improves water quality by filtering out excess nutrients, algae, and sediments. This has several benefits; improved water clarity in particular.

In 2008, roughly 50% of Galveston Bay's oyster reefs were lost during Hurricane Ike due to heavy sedimentation. Oyster reef losses in East Galveston Bay are estimated to have been up to 80%. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and CCA Texas began working together in late 2010 to secure substantial funding through the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP). A $3.2 million grant was secured for an oyster restoration project and CCA Texas provided an additional $500,000 to help restore 180 acres, completed in August 2014.

This project focused on four areas in East Galveston Bay. 80 acres were restored at Hannah's reef, 70 acres at Pepper Grove reef, 15 acres at Middle Reef and 10 acres at CCA Middle Reef. CCA Middle reef was constructed in a "mounding" configuration in order to create more bottom relief and fish habitat, and to provide opportunities for evaluating construction methods and success. The other three sites used a more evenly spread cultch material; river rock of 1- to 2 inches. This material was chosen so that it would pass through the commercial oyster dredge, thus minimizing the removal of cultch from the bay. The effort produced near instant success as cultch materials deployed in May 2014 and collected from Hannah's reef in late July have already had oyster spat set and growth beginning. In an effort to protect these restoration efforts, recent legislation has been passed that will close these reefing sites to harvest for two years.

"A project like this does so much for a local volunteer and it is like connecting the dots," commented Mike Petit, longtime CCA Texas member and CCA Texas Executive Board member. Mike commented further, "It is really gratifying as a local volunteer to see where the money goes that local chapters raise and to see that it is making an impact on the local bay system."

CCA Texas's habitat initiative, Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow (HTFT) continues to work closely with state agencies, like organizations, and academia to restore and create vital habitat all along the Texas coast. Projects like this are critically important in helping to ensure healthy coastal ecosystems are viable now and for future generations.

"Oyster reefs are an important part of a healthy ecosystem. They not only improve water quality, but also provide essential fish habitat," commented Robby Byers, CCA Texas Executive Director. Byers continued, "CCA Texas contributed $500,000 to this project. These dollars raised by CCA Texas volunteers are a great example of a true grassroots effort to put money and effort back into the resource."

CCA Texas will continue to remain a part of this project by recruiting local recreational fishermen to fish the new reefs as "citizen scientists". This effort is needed to create baseline data that will be used in the study to evaluate the success of the project. Volunteers are encouraged to work with TPWD and CCA Texas and fish designated areas by designated methods and be a part of the success and evaluation of the project. CCA Texas will also work with TPWD to provide outreach and education to the general public about oyster reefs and the efforts to restore them.

If you are interested in helping TPWD and CCA Texas collect this type of data, please contact John Blaha at [email protected] or Bill Rodney at [email protected]

CCA Continues Commitment to Nearshore Reefing Sites

CCA Texas Executive Board recently approved $200,000 in funding for the new Port O'Connor nearshore reefing site. This follows a commitment of $100,000 in August 2013 for Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) to secure the necessary US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) permit required for the site; 160 acres located in state waters out of the Port O'Connor jetties. CCA Texas continues to work with CCA National's Building Conservation Trust and TPWD to secure more funds with the goal to make this one of the largest artificial reef deployments to date. TPWD continues to work on securing the permit and hopes to have it in place by the end of 2014 and to begin deployment of materials into the site as soon as possible once the permit is in hand. With this $200,000 commitment, CCA Texas has contributed $700,000 to nearshore reefs along the Texas coast located at Freeport, Matagorda, Port O'Connor, Corpus Christi and Port Mansfield, and continues to fulfill the goal to help provide reefing sites to every port along the Texas coast.

Cedar Bayou Update

By the time this issue hits newsstands, Cedar Bayou should be flowing once again. As of August 21, 2014, Cedar Bayou has been dredged to the intersection with Vinson Slough and the excavation effort toward the Gulf is continuing. This historic project has been a long time coming and is sure to have a significant and positive effect on the Mesquite and surrounding bay systems.