UGA Shellfish Laboratory
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The University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Service has implemented a community-based oyster restoration project called GEORGIA (Generating Enhanced Oyster Reefs in Georgia’s Inshore Areas). This program aims to promote the recycling of oyster shell to create new oyster reefs, and to educate the general public of the importance of restoring, preserving, and enhancing oyster reefs along the Georgia coast. Citizens, school groups, youth groups, catering companies, seafood restaurants, seafood distributors, city planners, environmental organizations, and education centers have all played a vital role in the programs succes.
Georgia’s Oyster-A Keystone Species
Intertidal oysters are described as “keystone” species as they play a critical role in maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystem. Georgia’s oyster populations were once immense, however overfishing, habitat degradation, and disease have considerably impacted these estuarine communities.
- Dense populations of oysters can significantly improving water clarity and quality by filtering algae and pollutants.
- Intertidal reefs provide hard substrate in the otherwise soft muddy substrates of Georgia’s estuaries for oyster larvae and other organisms to settle, attach to and grow.
- Intertidal reefs provide spawning, breeding, feeding and nursery habitat for many other commercial, recreational, and sport species that are ecologically important to the region.
- Georgia has approximately one third of the remaining coastal salt marshes on the East Coast of the U.S. Intertidal oyster reefs protect these marshes against shoreline erosion by dissipating the energy caused by boat wakes and waves.
- Oysters are an important food source for humans and many other animals.
How Can You Get Involved?
Oyster Shell Collection: Volunteers collect shell (including whelk and clam shell) from private oyster roasts, restaurants or catering groups and take it to established recycling centers for curing. Periodically throughout the year volunteers shovel the shell into mesh bags that will be used to enhance future oyster reefs.
Oyster Reef Building: Oyster reef building and enhancement takes place during the spring months as volunteers move the mesh bags of cured oyster shell from the recycling centers to selected oyster reef sites. The shell inside the bags create the substrate for oysters and other organisms to attach and grow during the upcoming spawning season which typically runs form late spring through early fall.
Oyster Reef Monitoring: Volunteers are trained by the Marine Extension Service to conduct monitoring (water quality, biological community, oyster recruitment, growth and mortality) on a monthly basis at each of the restored sites.
The University of Georgia Marine Extension Service offers hands-on, inquiry-based education programs for students in grades five through twelve focusing on oyster reef communities and restoration efforts.
Donate the Shell From Your Oyster Roasts
Are you planning a private oyster roast? Do you own a seafood restaurant that serves oysters? Donate your shell to the GEORGIA program. Call the Marine Extension Service (912) 598 2348/2340 and we will organize a shell collection.
Build Your Own Oyster Reef
Are you a homeowner living near a tidal creek and interested in restoring oyster reefs in your own “backyard”? Please contact us, we can visit your site and provide an evaluation of the restoration potential and assist you through the permitting and reef construction process.
We would like to thank the following for supporting our restoration efforts: National Marine Fisheries Services Community-Based Restoration Program, Ocean Trust, and University of Georgia Marine Extension Service, Tybee Burton 4-H Center, Savannah Presbytery, South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Project, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the Saltwater Grill, the Oyster Bar, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources