January 2, 2018

Oyster Shell RecyclingThe Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is a unique, shallow-water estuary on the Atlantic coast extending along five Central Florida counties. With more than 4,000 species of flora and fauna, the lagoon is considered one of the most diverse estuarine ecosystems in North America and is classified as an Estuary of National Significance. The IRL – which includes the Mosquito Lagoon, the Banana River and the Indian River –  provides many recreational opportunities for residents and visitors each year. The IRL is an important economic resource, providing an annual economic value of $3.7 billion and supporting 15,000 full and part-time jobs. With over 70 percent of the lagoon’s area and nearly half its length, Brevard County has a vested interest in the IRL’s health and productivity.

In recent years, the estuary has experienced seagrass die-off and algal blooms due to excess nutrients from septic tanks, storm water runoff, and muck sediment. In response to these challenges, Brevard County has initiated an aggressive restoration strategy to aid in the IRL’s recovery and to protect this vital resource. The multi pronged approach includes reducing nutrient inputs to the IRL; removing muck that has accumulated at the bottom of the lagoon; and restoring water-filtering oysters and other ecosystem services.

Oysters provide an array of benefits to ecosystems, including water filtration, nitrogen regulation, habitat and refuge for fish and invertebrates, erosion protection, and food for higher trophic levels. Oysters are keystone species because of their significant role in the function of estuarine ecosystems. It was specifically for the tremendous ecosystem benefits associated with oysters that restoration of this vital habitat was included in Brevard County’s strategy to return the lagoon to a healthy, balanced state.

Installing oyster reefs with native shoreline vegetation - known as living shorelines - is anticipated to restore natural filtration systems in the Brevard County portion of the Indian River Lagoon. With requested Coastal Partnership Initiative grant funds, Brevard County has partnered with the Brevard Zoo to expand oyster shell recycling to support shoreline enhancement and oyster restoration projects in the lagoon.

CPI funds are being used to coordinate and manage an oyster shell recycling program. The program needs over 6,000 bags for its up coming reef building season and will need your help to reach this goal.

Shell-bagging events are scheduled in early 2018 on a first-come, first-served basis from 9 a.m. to noon during the following dates:

•         Friday, January 5
•         Saturday, January 27
•         Monday, February 5
•         Friday, February 16
•         Saturday, February 24
•         Friday, March 9
•         Saturday, March 17

Participants can look forward to cutting and tying mesh bags, filling shell buckets, carrying buckets to various stations, loading shells onto the shell bagging machine conveyer belt, pouring shells into tubes, and moving and stacking filled shell bags. It’s a labor-intensive three-hour event – we call it “Oyster CrossFit” for a reason – but water and snacks will be provided to help fuel you.

Once the oyster shell is collected, transported and stockpiled, it will supply ample substrate material for the installation of oyster reefs as part of living shorelines along 3.5 miles of the Indian River Lagoon during future project years. Oyster shells bagged by community volunteers will be used in combination with native vegetation to create over 1,600 linear feet of oyster reef living shorelines in Brevard County.

For more information, call Lagoon Restoration Specialist Gisele Nieman at the Brevard Zoo, 321-254-9453, ext. 373.