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Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program : Restoring the Reefs

Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program : Restoring the Reefs

Oyster BasketsThe Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program is a volunteer-based project that researches, educates and maintains the reefs in Mobile Bay for the community and the 300 species of vertebrates and invertebrates that use the reef as their habitat. Oyster Gardeners have been working together for 14 years to enhance the reefs, including a 10 acre reef reserve. The oysters from Oyster Gardening are for research and restoration purposes only; they are not for human consumption.

“Each garden will produce about 250 oysters ready for planting on the reef every year,” P.J. Waters, Alabama Cooperative Extension Specialist and Coordinator of the Oyster Garden Program, said.

From June to November, Volunteer Gardeners clean their oyster gardens weekly to remove any mud or algae that are caught in the basket. People can also adopt an oyster garden to help restore the reefs and engage the community in ongoing research in Mobile Bay. Each garden adopter receives the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program newsletter and an official certificate of adoption.

“In November, we collect the oysters, now between 2-2.5 inches and plant them on the reef sites,” Waters, said. “This year we did nearly 70,000 oysters including almost 10,000 from Alma Bryant High School which has worked with us for a number of years.”

Volunteer Gardeners raise baby oysters in small baskets a foot off the bay floor to protect them from predators such as crabs and predaceous snails. The most common species of crab found in Mobile Bay are blue crab, stone crab and mud crab.

“To date, we have planted more than 600,000 advanced stocker size oysters grown by volunteers on reefs all around Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound,” Waters, said.

Oyster Shells

As young oysters that live on existing reefs become larger, the reef grows in area and height creating a network of shells which provide a critical habitat source for the estuary.

“More than 70 percent of water that falls into Alabama flows into the Bay,” Waters, said.  “Next spring, the oysters will spawn when water temps get to around 68 degrees and release millions of additional oyster larvae into the system which is where the real impact of the program lies.”

Oysters have played an important role in this area for centuries.  Shell mounds found around the bay date back to when Native Americans were the prominent population in the region.  To learn more about this program’s work to restore oysters in Mobile Bay, visit www.oystergardening.org or email oystergardening@auburn.edu.

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