Restoring Eastern Oyster Habitat
The Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, was once plentiful throughout the south Atlantic coast. Since the arrival of humans, oysters have been exploited for subsistence and commercial purposes. Over many years of harvest, shell was rarely returned to the estuaries. Since oyster shell promotes oyster reef growth, this practice resulted in substantial declines in oyster populations. As a result, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has implemented a program to return shell to the environment in an effort to rebuild oyster populations.
Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery (BBNFH), in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), is now a public drop-off site for oyster shell. Oyster shell collected at BBNFH will be packaged in mesh bags and will be returned to estuaries as reefs. By returning this material to its natural environment, we are increasing suitable substrate for larval oysters while improving habitat for fish and other coastal aquatic species. By donating your shell, you become an important partner in the effort to conserve our coastal resources.
Red Drum and Oysters: Fish Production at BBNFH
The oyster reef shown below was built at BBNFH through a partnership between the SCDNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and local citizens using recycled oyster shell. An established oyster reef helps improve water quality, increase biodiversity, and reduce erosion. These efforts help maintain South Carolina’s oyster populations which in turn provide habitat for estuarine dependent fish and wildlife.
Estuarine fish such as red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) are produced in ponds at BBNFH. Upon release, fingerlings search for areas where they can find refuge from predators. Because oyster reefs are three dimensional, they not only provide excellent protection from predators but also increase habitat for other organisms that may serve as food for the fingerlings. For this reason, red drum produced at BBNFH are often stocked near submerged oyster beds.
Did You Know?
- A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
- Oyster reefs provide essential habitat for fish, shrimp, crabs, birds and other estuarine dependent wildlife.
- Oyster reefs serve as natural breakwaters that reduce erosion.
- Oyster populations along the east coast appear to be declining due to excessive harvest, reduced suitable substrate, pollution, and disease.