The Restoration Project

This project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation using the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, one of the pots of money that comes from the Deepwater Horizon settlement. The GEBF fund is separate from funding that comes directly to Levy County from the Restore Act. The county funds may be used to rehabilitate oyster reefs for harvest. The goal of the GEBF project is to restore the entire Lone Cabbage reef chain, with the expected benefit of buffering the nearby coastal habitats from salinity fluctuations and erosion.

How should we restore the reef?

Working with a variety of stakeholders including NGOs, local oyster harvesters and clam farmers, and management agencies, we constructed a series of experimental reefs during 2011-2013 on Lone Cabbage to test approaches and materials for restoration. That study illustrated that by adding limerock boulders and shell material to the reef, we can (1) provide suitable surface for oysters to recruit to the reef, (2) increase elevations on the reef, (3) decrease inshore salinities by retaining fresh water that would otherwise be lost to the Gulf, and (4) likely reduce recovery time of oyster reefs following mortality events by providing stable a stable surface that does not wash away. In addition, there is strong evidence that we have created ideal habitat for juvenile blue crabs and many other oyster reef-dependent animals. These oyster mini-reefs were also very robust to storm and wave action, and did not move or degrade during Hurricane Hermine of 2016.

What will be done to restore the reef?

This new project will restore about 32 acres (nearly three linear miles) of oyster reef along the historic Lone Cabbage reef complex. Using knowledge gained from the pilot study, we plan to build the reef back to its historic footprint and elevation using limerock boulders as the base, and shell as the top-dressing. The rock comes from local quarries - it is the bedrock of the Big Bend coastal zone and often forms the base upon which natural oyster reefs have grown. The shell will come from the local aquaculture industry, using the contents of discarded clam bags. In this way, construction of the reef will also help to clean clam leases of unwanted materials, freeing up prime production areas for clam aquaculture. After construction, the reef will be approximately 1 - 2 feet higher than its current elevation, will be increased back to its original 3-mile length, and the inlets between reefs will be reduced from the current 200 - 400 foot gaps to 100 - 50 foot gaps. Collectively, these changes should make for both a restored reef, but also one that is more resilient to fluctuations in freshwater discharge and sea level rise.

How will we know if the restoration activities work?

We predict that (1) the restored reef will initially attract more oyster settlement than unrestored sites, (2) the restored reef will retain more freshwater than if we did not restore it, and (3) that the restored reef will be able to recruit oysters and spring back after a drought faster than if we did not restore it. The first prediction was clearly fulfilled during the pilot study, and we will further test this by comparing the restored reef with nearby reefs that are left as they are. The second prediction about salinities can be examined by comparing salinities in Suwannee Sound before and after the restoration, and also comparing them on either side of the reef - the difference should be greater with the restored reef. Finally, we hope to do some hydrological modelling that will allow us to see how freshwater flows with and without restoration. The last prediction needs time - after the reef is built, we will compare oyster recruitment after a drought on both restored and unrestored reefs.

Who Will Conduct the Work?

This project involves collaboration between NFWF, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the University of Florida. The overall lead for the project is Dr. Peter Frederick from the University of Florida, with support from Dr. Dr. Bill Pine and Leslie Sturmer, also with UF. The project will also employ 1-2 people full time to supervise the reef construction and monitoring the response. The project will also have educational opportunities for 2 graduate students each year as well as several technicians who will primarily focus their efforts on monitoring oyster population and salinity levels before, during, and after reef construction. By far the majority of the work associated with the project will be conducted by contractors who will be in charge of depositing the rock base, and covering the reefs with shell material. These contractors will be selected based on a competitive bid process administered by the contracts and grants office of the University of Florida following State of Florida bid guidelines. It is very likely that these contractors will sub-contract parts of this project to the local community and obviously some aspects, such as acquiring the shell material, will require extensive cooperation with the local shellfish industry.

How is the money being spent?

Most of the project money (about 60%) will go directly to construction of the reefs which will probably take place in two parts. The first part would involve building the limerock reef base and the second part would involve collecting and adding the shell material to the reefs. The other major budget categories include permitting and design (surveys, engineering work), monitoring of oyster population and water quality responses before, during, and after construction, data analyses, outreach and education. There are also overhead costs associated with administering a large project like this. There is no "profit" made on a project like this funded by a grant to the University of Florida.

Community Involvement

This newly funded project was at least ten years in the making – starting with local community observations and concerns about disappearing oyster reefs in the Big Bend, progressing through research documenting the problem, a 3-year pilot construction project, and finally securing funding for a full-scale reef restoration project. All along the way local oystermen, the shellfish industry, state and federal partners, conservation organizations and community residents were all key to the success of each phase. How Can I Be Involved?