With financial support from a Walmart Foundation grant to FGCU and Friends of Rookery Bay, dozens of volunteers recently took steps to help restore oyster reefs in the Cocohatchee River in North Naples.
FGCU Professor of Marine Science Michael Savarese served as a mentor to John Spilker, who coordinated the event as part of a project to earn Eagle Scout status. Savarese and marine science staff including lab managers Lesli Haynes and Nicole Fronczkowski facilitated the project and pitched in with the heavy lifting on Sept. 19. That’s when Boy Scout Troop 243 of Naples and other volunteers placed hundreds of bags of fossil shell within two estuarine bays to build reefs for oyster larvae to attach to.
In collaboration with volunteers, FGCU faculty, students and staff have over several years constructed more than 25 oyster reefs in the region as part of its community-based oyster-reef restoration program.
Oysters perform important ecological functions in estuaries. They are highly efficient at filtering water, and what they don’t consume is food for bottom dwellers, according to FGCU’s Coastal Watershed Institute. Oyster reefs are essential refuge and habitat, promoting a healthy and abundant ecosystem for shrimp, fish and crabs, which feed birds and mammals. Research suggests that oyster growth and distribution in Southwest Florida have decreased drastically since the 1960s.