Georgia Southern University restoring coastline with oyster habitats
It’s not much of a “groundbreaking” project, but more of a “ground-building” project.
Georgia Southern University has partnered with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Yamaha Rightwaters to rejuvenate a section of the Savannah waterways for oyster beds. As part of these efforts, Eagle faculty and students recently installed bags of oyster shells along the coastline to build shelters for budding populations.
Oyster reefs are pivotal to coastal environments and offer a multitude of benefits. While they are a sought-after delicacy, their significance extends far beyond the dining table.
“Oyster reefs serve as thriving ecosystems, safeguard shorelines from erosion, and even play a role in carbon sequestration,” said John Carroll, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at Georgia Southern. “The oyster population in Georgia remains robust. However, our primary focus is habitat restoration. We’re targeting areas where oyster harvesting is absent, creating sanctuaries for oysters to flourish and fostering marine biodiversity.”
The choice of material was critical to constructing these vital reefs, and the solution was right under their nose: they could use oyster shells to build oyster habitats.
According to Carroll, oyster shells possess the natural shape and complexity that attracts oyster larvae, facilitating their growth. Although alternative materials like concrete or rocks are used in some projects, oyster shells are still the substrate of choice in Georgia.
Beyond habitat restoration, this project has piqued Yamaha’s interest due to its potential for carbon sequestration.
“Addressing climate change is imperative,”Carrol said.” Oyster reefs play a pivotal role by capturing sediment rich in organic matter, effectively locking away carbon. Adjacent marsh grasses absorb carbon from the atmosphere, creating a powerful synergy.”
Students are integral to the project’s success. They have assisted in various tasks, from bagging oyster shells, sourced from a shell recycling program and neighboring states, to data sampling and analysis. It was a hands-on experience they hope will shape the next generation of environmental stewards.
“Our hope is that this initiative sets a precedent for future restoration projects along the Georgia coast,” Carrol noted “By reviving these oyster reefs, we are not only bolstering local ecosystems but also addressing the urgent need to combat climate change. It’s a win-win for both nature and humanity.”
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