Reef restoration projects aim to bolster Texas' record-low oyster population

"Reef restoration projects aim to bolster Texas' record-low oyster population" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. With oyster populations in Texas at historic lows, The Nature Conservancy is launching two new reef restoration projects that look to appease commercial fishermen and environmentalists alike.

Using funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, the group plans to develop 110 acres of reef in Galveston Bay and Copano Bay, near Rockport. Half of each reef will be designated as a marine sanctuary where the molluscs — which have significant economic and environmental benefits — may grow. The other half will be open for commercial fishing.

Construction of the new reefs is expected to begin this winter, with harvestable portions ready as soon as 2021.

Laura Huffman, regional director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas, said these projects show a new approach to oyster reef restoration, with the compatibility of building harvestable reefs at the same time as growing a healthy habitat.

“Protecting the ecology of these reefs is essential for protecting oysters, both as a food source and for the economy of Texas,” Huffman said. “We have to pay attention to rebuilding habitat so that we’re giving back at the same time that we’re taking.”

After years of overharvesting and widespread coastal destruction during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, the number of Texas oysters has dwindled to a fraction of their former population. The Nature Conservancy estimates that as much as 50 percent of original reefs remain in the Gulf of Mexico. And in some parts of the coast, it estimates 80 percent of reefs have been destroyed.

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