March 20, 2017 — Ann Birch is a big fan of oysters — not because of how they taste on crackers with a little cocktail sauce and horseradish — but because of what they do when they are in their natural environment.
“They are amazing critters,” said Birch, a marine biologist for The Nature Conservancy who is overseeing a major project to restore oyster reefs in parts of Pensacola Bay.
An individual oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, meaning an entire oyster reef works as a cleaning system for all of the surrounding water.
“The reefs also serve as a nursery for shrimp and blue crab and as a feeding ground for many fish species while protecting shorelines from waves and preventing erosion,” she said.
The Nature Conservancy in Florida has a $1.5 million grant for the reef project from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, a $2.5 billion fund created after the 2010 BP Gulf Coast oil spill from legal settlements paid by the British oil giant and others involved in the massive spill.
The group plans to restore 6.5 miles of reefs in Santa Rosa County’s East Bay along the Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area. The $1.5 million will cover the first phase of the project, which includes surveying the existing water quality and wildlife along with design and permitting for construction.