By Dawn Krebs
MARTIN COUNTY -- It's been almost a month since the county used grant money to add to the St. Lucie Estuary's oyster population.
Since then, truckloads of shell and other materials used to build oyster beds have been delivered to the Britt Point staging area, located just north of the old Roosevelt Bridge.
When completed, more than 30 million pounds of fossilized shell and other materials will have been deposited in a four-acre area of the St. Lucie Estuary near downtown Stuart to provide a habitat for oyster restoration.
But this month of work is just one of the results of almost eight years of behind-the-scenes work done by Martin County officials to bring awareness and assistance to the declining oyster populations. Since that time, more than 30 acres of oyster habitat has been created.
"Monitoring efforts have provided data on the early success of our program at providing productive habitat for oyster and other estuarine species," said Kathy Fitzpatrick, Martin County coastal engineer in a press release. "This four-acre project will allow us to build upon this success and continue water quality improvements in the St. Lucie Estuary."
This project, as well as the others, was made possible by a $4 million federal grant awarded to the county in 2009 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The newly constructed reef habitat, when fully populated with oysters, could filter an amount equal to the total volume of the St Lucie Estuary in about a month. Oyster reefs also provide essential habitat structure for other species including shrimp, clams, crabs, snails and many species of fish.
In addition to adding to the long-term health of the river, the restoration project also helps to fulfill one of the goals of the comprehensive everglades restoration plan.
For more information about oyster restoration, visit www.oysterrestoration.com.