Using a volunteer-based oyster gardening program in coastal Mississippi to enhance oyster restoration

End Date: 02-28-2021


Over a five year period a volunteer-based oyster gardening program will be established to:

  1. Produce sub-adult oysters (approximately 2.5 inches) on whole shell for planting within coastal MS waters off limits to harvest
  2. Engage community stakeholders in Mississippi to provide an avenue for hands-on direct involvement in oyster restoration within the Mississippi Sound

Task 1. Partner with Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) to establish working model to implement a Mississippi Oyster Gardening (MSOG) program.

  1. The primary question central to this project’s initiation is establishing areas where volunteers can legally Oyster Garden
    a. If the volunteers grow oysters in open waters, will any of the oysters produced be available to the gardeners for consumption?
    b. If the volunteers grow oysters in closed waters, what precautions will be taken to ensure volunteers do not consume oysters?
  2. Identify site(s) where oysters produced by the program will be planted at the conclusion of each growing season.


Staffing Needs
Program Manager: Will supervise and advise the program assistant, lead in development of MSOG manual, monthly communications, gardener trainings, identify suppliers (below).
Program Assistant: Will be responsible for day to day activities of the program. Will spear head volunteer recruitment, arrangements for resupply, repair, debrief and data collection. Will participate in the development of MSOG manual, monthly communications, gardener trainings, collection of oysters for stocking on reefs.

Once the water classification necessary for the MSOG activities are established, the project partners will engage in the following components:

  1. Identify MS based supplier for rolled PVC coated wire mesh 1” square, rope and other supplies.
  2. Identify MS based supplier to manufacture cages to be supplied to volunteers.
  3. Recruit MS volunteer gardeners (30 in YR 1) who live, or otherwise have access to waterfront piers/wharves/docks within the zones identified in TASK 1 as allowable for OG activities.
  4. Oyster spat-on-shell will be purchased from the AU Shellfish Laboratory located on Dauphin Island, Alabama until a suitable MS hatchery established. Broodstock oysters can be obtained from MS if necessary.

After completing Task 1, MSOG personnel will recruit the first group of volunteer gardeners with the goal of 30 participants for the first 2 years, growing to 50 for years 3, 4 and 5. It is anticipated that the majority of year 1 participants will continue with years 2-5, however some turnover is expected, and recruitment activities will continue throughout the program to facilitate steady growth.

Volunteer, gardeners will attend trainings that will be strategically located and replicated for convenience to the gardeners. These trainings will include oyster biology (life cycle, predators, etc.), history of oyster reefs in coastal MS, state of oyster reefs in MS and Gulf-wide, as well as the expectations and responsibilities of the gardeners. Further, through these training workshops, new gardeners will become familiar with the gear they will be using, as well as with the extension personnel involved. Expectations of the gardeners include maintenance of the gardens as outlined in trainings, reporting any damage or problems promptly, and recruiting neighbors, friends, etc. as future gardeners. In year 1, personnel will develop the first version of MSOG manual; establish a monthly newsletter to communicate with gardeners (growth charts, reminders, updates to the program, etc.).

How to Garden
Each volunteer will receive four (4) gardens (fabricated cages) for their site. Each garden will be suspended between pilings and approximately 12 inches off the bottom. Each site will receive one bag of spat set on whole shell by AUSL (until MS hatchery online). Each bag will contain 100 shell, which will ultimately be divided across the 4 gardens. Every 7-10 days, gardens should be pulled from the water and shaken at the water surface to remove mud and other loose fouling agents (as detailed in trainings and coordinated through monthly newsletter reminders). Gardens should be hosed off to remove algal growth. Each garden should be opened and any predators (drill, crab, etc.) removed. As the season progresses, gardeners will be instructed through the newsletter to allow gardens to desiccate in the shade for a period of time recommended by MSOG assistant to destroy any early barnacle set and further control algal growth. Following desiccation, gardens will be returned to the water. These activities should continue throughout the gardening period. At the conclusion of the season, oysters will be collected and stocked in areas identified by MSOG partners. Gardens will be stored out of the water for reuse in subsequent years. Storm loss, or other damage should be reported to the program for repairs/replacements prior to YEAR 2.

March 2016: Complete TASK 1
March 2016-May 2016: Recruit volunteer gardeners in accordance with TASK 1 results. Identify suppliers, and move into position those supplies necessary to begin the MSOG program during the summer of 2016 (target July).
May 2016: Gardener Training Workshop. MEDIA EVENT coordinated by partnership
July 2016: Distribute Spat. Personnel will develop plan to transfer spat set at hatchery to the MSOG volunteer gardeners. MEDIA EVENT coordinated by partnership
July-November: Weekly visits to sites to collect growth data, answer questions, and record experiences (written/video) for use in recruitment and marketing of MSOG. Develop FAQ based on these interactions to be incorporated into MSOG manual, and to make adjustments to program in YEAR 2.

MEDIA UPDATE coordinated by partnership
November 2016: Collect all oysters for planting on sites identified by the partnership. The goal of each gardening site is 1,000 sub-adult oysters. MEDIA EVENT coordinated partnership December 2016: Debrief Year 1 Gardeners. Personnel will conduct exit interviews with representatives from each gardening site, and fine tune FAQ and manual, as well as reaffirm connection with the program and encourage recruitment for Year 2.
January 2017: Finalize debrief. Initiate Year 2 recruitment.
February 2017: Complete MSOG manual and FAQ if not already for use in YEAR 2
January 2017-May 2017: Replace/repair/restock supplies for YEAR 2
May 2017: New gardeners training MEDIA EVENT coordinated partnership
June/July 2017: Season 2 (repeating in season activities-site visits, etc. of YEAR 1 focusing on new gardeners) MEDIA EVENT coordinated by partnership
November 2017: Season 2 planting MEDIA EVENT coordinated by partnership

Repeat season-ending and season-beginning activities for Year 3-5 with an emphasis of growing gardening site numbers from 30 to 50. It is anticipated that each site will produce 1,000 subadult (approximately 2.5 inches) oysters each year. Based on these estimates, 210,000 oysters will be produced over the life of the project, enough for 2.61 acres at 20/m2. The ecosystem services delivered by 2.61 acres of restored oyster reef will provide more $36,000 of habitat value (Kroeger, T. 2012 TNC) each year.