Gulf of Mexico
2017 MISSISSIPPI OYSTER REEF MAP - BILOXI BAY. (Shellfish Bureau of DMR)

MS - Mississippi projects aim at improving oyster reefs

GULFPORT, MISS. A test project to raise tiny baby oysters on shells to add to oyster reefs has succeeded beyond expectations, says the head of Mississippi’s Department of Marine Resources.

The department obtained 98 million oyster larvae from Mississippi State and Auburn universities, and put them, in batches, into six 1,000-gallon (3,800-liter) tanks holding sea water and empty oyster shells.

They wound up with 17.6 million baby oysters, nearly 17 per shell, according to a news release.

The baby oysters, called spat, averaged about one-tenth of an inch (2.74 millimeters) across when the shells were added to “cultch plants” in Biloxi Bay. Those are areas where the department has set out shells and other hard surfaces that larvae can attach themselves to.

Oyster reefs are a coastal keystone, protecting coastlines from erosion, providing habitat for hundreds of other species, and filtering the water as they feed.

“Our MDMR staff have worked diligently on this project, and so far, the results have exceeded our expectations,” Joe Spraggins, the department's executive director, said in a news release.

He said the $62,200 cost worked out to half a penny per baby oyster. The money came from Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP and codefendants.

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