Volunteers Restore Oyster Reef and Help Protect Salt Marsh Habitat at ‘Sink Your Shucks’ Event

Published: May 12, 2016

Volunteers Restore Oyster Reef and Help Protect Salt Marsh Habitat at ‘Sink Your Shucks’ Event

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Around 160 members of the community gathered on Saturday, May 7, at Goose Island State Park in Rockport to lend a helping hand during “Sink Your Shucks,” a regularly held event which aims to restore oyster reefs in local waters. The event is hosted by the Department of Life Sciences and the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“The goal of this project is to reclaim shucked oyster shells from restaurants and seafood wholesalers and use them to create new reefs in areas where it’s been degraded,” said Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology. “So far, we have restored about 14 acres of oyster reef in the Copano and Aransas Bays.”

In addition, oyster reefs help protect adjacent salt marsh habitats from erosion by acting as a buffer against waves and tides, preventing fast-moving waters from carrying away sand along the shore. The ongoing project has also created almost a half-acre of oyster reef in Goose Island State Park. Reefs like these are important because they contribute to the local water quality. In fact, each oyster living in a reef can filter about 50 gallons of water a day, helping keep our waters clean.

“Events like this get people in the frame of mind for recycling, whether it’s oyster shells, paper or cups,” said Gail Sutton, HRI Chief Operating Officer. “It teaches good values and practices. There aren’t many events like this in Corpus Christi and it’s something that helps the community as a whole because everyone gets involved, from the very young to the retirees.”

Volunteers included out of town visitors staying at the park, area Girl Scout and Boy  Scout groups, students from Moody High School and schools from as far as San Antonio. 

“It’s great every time there’s a new group of students coming out to help,” said Kelley Savage, a marine biology graduate student. “It’s really cool that they get to learn more and teach everyone else about what we do. I also love when people return to these events and bring their friends.”

The “Sink Your Shucks” program is the first in Texas to reclaim more than 900,000 pounds of shucked oyster shells from Water Street Restaurant and Groomer’s Seafood and return them to our local waters, providing substrate for oyster larvae to attach, grow and form new reef habitats for fish, crabs and other organisms.

The project is co-coordinated by Sutton and Pollack. Pollack, along with Sutton and Dr. Paul Montagna, HRI Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling, developed the first oyster shell recycling program for the Texas Coastal Bend in November 2009.

“A lot of people care; they’re out here (helping),” said Maria Rodriguez, an environmental science graduate student. “It’s breathtaking and it’s amazing to see all these kids out here. I’m noticing that this outreach is working.”