A few weeks ago I published that I was going to start highlighting some of the ongoing efforts of restoration throughout the area. The idea behind these blogs will be to focus on the positive work that is being done, instead of just the negativity. I also hope that it will help bring new ideas to the table. It seems that a lot of people have ideas about what can be done to help with our waterways, yet very few actually bring them up. Maybe, just maybe, by reading what others are doing, you can learn how to start a project in your area, or who to contact about a possible solution to a problem. It doesn't take scientists to figure out solutions to our problems; in fact, many of today's solutions have come from observant individuals outside of the scientific world.
The first project I decided to highlight is one that has been taking place along the shorelines of Canaveral National Seashore, in the New Smyrna Beach/Edgewater area. This project is concentrating on shoreline restoration and is primarily being completed by students from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the Marine Discovery Center, located in New Smyrna Beach. I recently sat down with an individual from the Marine Discovery Center, to discuss this project, as well as bouncing some new project ideas off of her. What I learned makes me excited for the future and also displayed how much these individuals are trying to reverse the course of the damage done to our waterways. PLEASE NOTE: any mistakes in terminology or in the exact process taking place is on me, in this article. They were very informative in speaking with me, and answering all of the questions I had. So, if something is wrong in this article, which I don't think it is, it is on me.
The shoreline restoration being completed by these groups is focused at helping to stabilize and re-nourish the shorelines along various points from New Smyrna Beach down to Oak Hill; mainly along the shorelines of the Canaveral National Seashore. The project is aiming to reduce damage created by storms, natural erosion, and erosion created by the increased boat traffic and their wakes. This project started quite a while ago, but I decided to highlight it because I have witnessed, first hand, the positive impact it is having. The idea of the project is stabilize eroding shorelines and help re-nourish them, naturally, by replacing oyster beds and mangroves that have been destroyed over the years. Damage has come from all types of activity, including: water pollution, storm damage, human activity, and more. When I first noticed the project being completed, it involved the "planting" of used oyster shells along the shoreline.
Many people, including myself, wondered why they were utilizing used oyster shells for the project, when it first began. Well, there are a multitude of reason, but these are a few: natural product, readily available, it recycles a product that would otherwise go to a landfill, and it is very effective. Each year, the project supervisors receive tons of used oyster shells from restaurants throughout the state. These shells are brought to the Marine Discovery Center, where they are cleaned and given 6 months (or more) of "sterilization" in the sun and open air. The shells are given this time to make sure that any by-products from restaurant use or any foreign bodies, from other water locations, are not introduced into our waterways. This is an important step in the process, to make sure that new parasites or diseases are not accidentally introduced into our waterways and also gives the best opportunity for new life to grow on them without issue. Once the shells are ready, they are bagged by volunteers and prepped for placing.
I questioned the use of the bags being utilized, as they are plastic mesh-type bags. My first thought was, "Why are we utilizing plastic bags when we know the issues associated with micro-plastics in our waterways. The bags being utilized are a "marine approved" plastic that does not break down into micro-plastics. They are designed to last and also to allow growth to take place on them. The Marine Discovery Center and UCF take the use of any plastic very serious. They make sure that what they utilize will be a part of the solution and not part of the problem. In fact, the bags are made from the same plastic that is utilized for oyster mats in other areas, such as South Brevard County. Which begs the question, why not mats instead of bags? They attempted to use mats, but had very limited success with them. So, the bags are used. The bags prevent the shells from being washed away, displaced by animals, or from being disturbed while new growth starts.
Once the bags are ready, students, employees and volunteers take them to a pre-determined location and placed them along the shoreline. The bags are placed in the tidal zones, where oyster bars previously existed. Once placed, these bags start collecting new life. One hope is that when existing oyster bars, with live oysters, spawn, the larvae will find these oyster bags and start the replenishment of living oyster bars. It is working. I have seen the results in various locations in the areas they are working.
Another positive side of these bags is the stabilization of the shorelines. The bags stop erosion from storms and boat wakes. By stopping the erosion, shoreline grasses can begin to grow and spread, further protecting and stabilizing the shorelines. Spartina Grass is one of the most important shoreline grasses we have. Not only does it stabilize shorelines, it has also been proven to help clean extra nutrients and pollution from the waters; not to mention the protection it offers to small crustaceans and fish that the larger predatory fish need for food. In areas where this project has been taking place, Spartina Grass is starting to make a huge comeback. More importantly, it is surviving and spreading despite the numerous hurricanes we have sustained in recent years.
Once bags are placed and stable, volunteers go back in and introduce small mangrove plants in these areas. Most people understand how important mangroves are to an estuary system. They provide protection for everything, and also help eliminate extra nutrients from our waterways. I am sure there are tons of other benefits too, but I will not claim to know everything about them. What I do know is how much life exist within them. Baitfish, shrimp, crabs, and predators all live within the root system and branches of these plants and they also offer protection to our waterways from the winds and waves. On a personal note, mangroves are just beautiful, intricate plants that amaze me with their growth and look.
This project has been in place for quite a while and is still ongoing. In fact, if you would like to help, Marine Discovery Center would love to have you! The first Saturday of every month, at 9 AM, is spent making oyster bags. Volunteers can contact them, via their website (https://www.marinediscoverycenter.org/) for exact needs and where to meet. They also need volunteers on Wednesdays, when weather cooperates, for Brazilian Pepper Tree removal; these invasive plants are removed so mangroves can grow in their place.
So, what is next? That may be the biggest question out there. Personally, I would like to see the destruction of our seagrass beds addressed. I am working on a couple of projects and have spoken with the Marine Discovery Center about them. They pointed me in the right direction and I am slowly progressing. There are other projects in the works too, including: redfish hatcheries, clam "plantings", storm water run-off solutions, and more. Each project is valuable and important. They must build upon each other and it necessary to understand the intricacies of our ecosystems in order for them to be successful. If you have a project you would like to get highlighted, or one you know about that deserves some attention, please email me! I'd love to get the details and put it out there! While I kept this article brief, I hope it gives you some idea of the people working behind the scenes and a bit of hope for our future!