Oyster gardening has really taken off on the Gulf Coast this season.
In Mississippi, the number of gardening sites tripled for 2018, with a total of 3,500 spat-set shells expected to produce 40,000 restoration oysters! The oysters are already growing nicely, and will be relocated to their permanent homes on local reefs in November.
The Mississippi oysters are keeping up with their neighbors in Mobile Bay and Little Lagoon in Alabama and are now over an inch long and starting to require more attention from our volunteer gardeners. Gardeners are tasked with removing predators from cages and shaking gardens to ensure the rapidly growing oysters don’t grow through the mesh.
Many of this season’s gardeners have also volunteered to measure their oysters throughout the season, which allows us to compare size at different locations.
At our school and education center sites, campers have been able to interact with the oysters and learn more about their role in reef formation. The students also measure the oysters and note any species they find living in the gardens. Small crabs, fish and shrimp are common inhabitants of the oyster gardens and highlight the diversity of species that are found on oyster reefs and their ecological importance.
A new component of the Mississippi program is habitat gardening (using just shell, but no live oysters). This was started as an alternative to traditional oyster gardening at two sites where live oysters couldn’t be used. The reef structure provided by shells produces a comparable habitat for species that we typically find in oyster gardens, and we’re continuing to monitor these gardens.
If you are interested in becoming an oyster gardener or have any questions about the program, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org