This is a brief "one-sheet" summary of the central topics and focuses of the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative (current as of 06/26/2023).
1. Current Oyster Reef Restoration Experiments
The oyster reefs in Apalachicola Bay are severely degraded and the historical bars have been reduced to shell hash. Several materials have been used in Apalachicola Bay for oyster restoration, shell, fossil shell and limerock. Of these, the only material that reliably supports oyster growth is limerock. Everything else has been buried, dispersed, or deteriorated. According to the latest Florida DEP and FWC surveys, only 56 acres of the nearly 2,000 acres of historically productive reefs have oyster densities that could potentially support harvest.
In early May 2023, the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative (ABSI) completed its second round of oyster reef restoration experiments. With the help of almost 20 local oystermen and women, they were able to effectively deploy 416 cubic yards of limerock, 416 cubic yards of concrete, and 96 cubic yards of shell into the Cat Point area of Apalachicola.
These materials were strategically deployed between 16 sites (50 ft x 26 ft) along the Cat Point region, approximately 2,000 feet southeast from the nearest shoreline. The 16 sites were further broken down into 4 areas with 4 distinct treatment types. Treatments were comprised of the following:
- 2-6” limerock deployed 15” high
- 2-6” limerock deployed 12” high with 3” of cured shell deployed on top
- 4-6” concrete deployed 15” high
- 4-6” concrete deployed 12” high with 3” of cured shell deployed on top.
The deployment will help to further clarify how substrate type (limerock, concrete, and shell) potentially affects oyster growth rates and mortality, spat settlement, predator presence, and overall oyster health. ABSI aims to continuously monitor these 16 sites over the next 2 years.
2. Restoring the Bay to a Healthy Ecosystem
Healthy oyster reefs significantly contribute to a healthy Bay and the regional economy.
One of the most important goals of ABSI is to help restore oyster reef ecosystems and all the ecological and ecosystem services they provide. ABSI uses the best available science to identify the optimal materials, configuration, and location for oysters to settle, grow and make reefs. If this objective is successful and the oyster ecosystems recover, a sustainable fishery would be possible if managed appropriately.
Oyster habitat needs to be healthy to support a viable fishery, and is important at providing other ecosystem benefits such as providing habitat for other species, filtering seawater and buffering against strong waves and storms. A healthy Bay and productive oyster reefs help sustain not just the oyster fishery but also other commercial and recreational fisheries, including the professional guide community, tourism and the seafood and restaurant industry.
3. Community Advisory Board and Apalachicola Bay Draft Framework Plan
The Community Advisory Board (CAB) unanimously adopted a restoration and management plan framework for the Apalachicola Bay ecosystem in November 2021. This plan provides a framework for resource management agencies (such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservatin Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Servies (FDACS), and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FL DEP)) containing a number of community-approved objectives and strategies to restore and sustain the ecosystem health of Apalachicola Bay and oyster populations. While it has broad management strategy options for the oyster fishery, it is not, nor is it intended to be the final oyster management plan. The FWC is responsible for fishery management decisions and together with FL DEP, manages habitat. Additionally, FDACS monitors the water quality in the harvest areas and regulates the oyster aquaculture in the Bay.
The CAB will officially wind down at the end of November 2023 but a new group will be formed to carry on the duties. This new group will continue to guide the implementation of the plan and coordinate with numerous agencies, universities, organizations, and stakeholders. Ensuring there’s a sustainable oyster population to sustain a well-managed oyster fishery is paramount to the CAB’s strategy.
4. Community Input and Collaboration
ABSI not only welcomes collaboration but relies on the knowledge of the local community to help guild them in their research efforts. There are many ways to get involved and help ABSI with research in the Bay. ABSI and the Community Advisory Board (CAB) encourage oyster harvesters, dealers, and the seafood industry to be involved in all aspects of the restoration.
To stay informed on the progress, please explore more of our website, sign-up for the ABSI bi-monthly Newsletter via email, attend outreach events where we ask for public input, and reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Harvesting wild oysters, even for personal use, will undermine restoration efforts. If you see anyone taking oysters, please report to FWC (850- 617-7600). We also welcome volunteers at the Marine Lab and can find plenty of willing helpers to do.
A long-term advisory board comprised of the local seafood industry, FWC, FDACS, DEP, Franklin County leaders, businesses, and residents, will need to work together to ensure the future of the restored oyster reefs.