Caption for the above photo by Cliff Partlow, staff photographer: The Indian River County Commissioners are looking at the health of the Indian River Lagoon. One topic is the health of the grass beds. Pictured is healthy grass bed near the Sebastian Inlet.
By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Indian River County commissioners OK'd a pilot project for an oyster reef designed to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon.
During the July 9 meeting, commissioners voted to spend $28,500 to help construct and monitor an oyster reef north of Indian River Boulevard and U.S. 1. Commissioners directed staff to work out a contract with longtime county oyster and shellfish farmer Charlie Sembler and Chip Swindell, president of Ecotech Consultants.
The reef will follow the model of the oyster beds created in the Spoonbill Marsh, a wetlands area north of the Grand Harbor community, a program that has positive quantifiable results, Mr. Swindell said.
The oysters will help clean up the lagoon water, help grow food sources and be a habitat for juvenile fish and invertebrates and eventually attracting game fish.
"Oysters are nature's perfect septic tanks," Mr. Sembler said.
To build the approximately quarter-acre site into an oyster-friendly habitat, there will first need to be heavy wire mesh placed onto the bottom of the lagoon, topped with clean concrete rubble, Mr. Swindell said.
Oysters like to attach themselves onto hard surfaces, and the lagoon doesn't currently have the natural geophysical substrate they prefer, so it will have to be man-made, Mr. Sembler said.
The population of oysters in the marsh is estimated to be between 800,000 to 1.2 million, Mr. Swindell said.
In the Spoonbill Marsh, the oysters are protected from the large winds and waves that can be found in the lagoon, but the principle of the process is the same and shouldn't be affected, he said.
In the lagoon, the clean cement rubble would be laid down in a series of small islands, instead of a large landmass.
Mr. Sembler said nursing the lagoon back to health will not be a single, quick solution, but he said the oyster reef is a proven way to increase clean water and is a good step forward.
The Army Corps of Engineers and St. John's River Water Management District were both consulted on the project and neither organization had a problem with the project, simply specifying that it should be placed in a section of the lagoon bed where there isn't any seagrass, Mr. Swindell said.
The actual contract for the project was not completed and voted on at press time, subsequent stories will report on the project's progress.
For more information, or to view upcoming agendas for county government meetings, visit www.ircgov.com.