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Building a Living Shoreline in Centipede Bay Sea Grant Partners on a $29K Grant to install oyster reefs and plant marsh grasses in habitat-starved estuary

By Rebecca Burton

Photos provided by Hernando County, Brittany Hall-Scharf and Keith Kolasa

In an effort to improve water quality and reduce erosion along the shoreline of Hernando County, a Florida Sea Grant team is working with University of Florida faculty and Hernando County employees to restore oyster reefs and marsh grasses in a Bay that is starved for fish habitat.

The project is part of a $29K grant awarded to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coastal Partnership Initiative.

Florida Sea Grant team from left to right: Brittany Hall-Scharf, Josh Patterson, Savanna Barry and LeRoy Creswell.

"As a bonus, the new habitats will also attract economically and recreationally important fish species such as redfish, snapper and sheepshead," said Brittany Hall-Scharf, Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County and co-principal investigator of the project.

where is Centipede Bay?

What is a Living Shoreline?

The project aims to develop a new “living shoreline,” in Centipede Bay, an area that currently lacks fish habitat and consists of mostly sandy bottom. Filter-feeding oysters can help improve water clarity in the area, while marsh grasses provide nurseries for fish and prevent shoreline erosion.

Keith Kolasa, aquatic services manager for Hernando County, helped obtain the permits through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the new shoreline.

Benefits of a Living Shoreline

NOAA infographic

Step 1: Oysters

The first phase of the project involves planting oyster reefs in the bay.

filter-feeding oysters help improve water clarity. The reefs formed by oyster shells provide homes for fish and invertebrates.

Starting in February, volunteers will begin to fill hundreds of mesh bags with oyster shell, some of which has been donated from the Coastal Conservation Association Florida. The bags serve as building blocks for the reef.

The donated shell is collected from local restaurants and then moved to a quarantine facility to dry out. This lowers the chances of outside invaders making their way into Centipede Bay.

The remainder of the shells will be purchased with grant funding, said Hall-Scharf.

Volunteers with the Coastal Conservation Association drop off A truckload of donated oyster shells. The loose shells will be grouped together using mesh bags.

Hall-Scharf and her team will then move the bags of oyster shell to a loading dock near the restoration site. In April, about the time when oysters spawn, she will begin to place the bags in the water side by side to build the new reef.

The mesh bags filled with donated oyster shell are the building blocks for the reef.

“We will be arranging the bags in the shape of a giant football that will have gaps for fish movement,” Hall-Scharf said. “The bags will form the base of the reef and provide a hard surface for juvenile oysters to settle on and grow.”

The hope is that the new reef, like a newly built subdivision, will attract new tenants naturally.

When oysters spawn, they release egg and sperm into the water column. The larva float freely in the water for about two weeks looking for prime real estate, or a hard surface to attach to and build their lives. Hall-Scharf hopes the newly built oyster reef will be the perfect surface for the oyster recruits come April 2018.

And the chances for that are good, according to data from a 2016 pilot project which showed favorable conditions for natural recruitment.

For the pilot project, Hall-Scharf and her team placed recruitment traps made of floor tiles zip-tied together with PVC tubing, in the water to see if oysters began to settle.

The recruitment traps were placed in the water in time for spawning season to see if oysters would settle in the area.

“We watched the oysters grow over the next few months while also collecting water quality data,” Hall-Scharf said. “From the results of this study, we felt that we could proceed with the oyster reef enhancement project.”

In an earlier study, recruitment tiles placed in Centipede Bay quickly attracted free-floating oyster larvae.

“If the natural recruitment doesn’t work, then we will have to spend money on hatchery-reared spat, or oyster larvae, to seed the site,” Hall-Scharf said.

Step 2: Grasses

The grant will also go toward planting new marsh grasses in the area, most of which will be donated by a new “Grasses in Classes,” program at the Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology in Spring Hill.

students at gulf coast academy of science and technology help build the first marsh grass nursery at their school.

In this hands-on curriculum, students learn about the importance of marsh grasses to our coastal ecosystems while helping grow them for future restoration activities.

Hall-Scharf is helping build two nurseries at the middle school that will eventually produce an annual crop of smooth cordgrass for coastal marsh restoration adjacent to the new oyster reef site.

Josh Patterson helps install the first marsh grass nursery at the Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology in Spring Hill.

“The establishment of these cordgrass nurseries on school grounds will give students on-campus field experiences while nursery construction and marsh fieldwork will engage students in engineering and restoration ecology, respectively,” said Josh Patterson, Florida Sea Grant restoration specialist with UF/IFAS and the project’s co-principal investigator.

“This is a great example of Florida Sea Grant combining research and outreach to solve a practical problem.”

“This is a great example of Florida Sea Grant combining research and outreach to solve a practical problem.”

Project partners: Florida Sea Grant, UF/IFAS, Hernando County Government, UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station

In-kind donations of volunteer hours and supplies have been provided by: Coastal Conservation Association Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Stock Enhancement Research Facility, Hernando Environmental Land Protectors, Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, Hernando County Port Authority, BPM Spray Foam, Hillsborough and Hernando County residents, Mermaid Chase Paddling Race, Florida Master Gardeners

This project was made possible with the help and enthusiasm of a local Florida Sea Grant agent. Would you like to see something like this in your community? Consider making a gift to Florida Sea Grant and put your science investment to work for Florida's environment.

Created By
Rebecca Burton
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