Oyster Reef Restoration Program

As a county committed to the protection and restoration of our environment, Martin County responded to the declining oyster population in both the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee estuaries by establishing the Oyster Reef Restoration Program.

The two estuaries have followed the worldwide trend with oyster populations declining by as much as 90 percent. Restoration projects are vitally important to reviving these depleted oyster populations. 

This program fosters significant long-term ecological improvements to the health of the estuaries and also provides vital recreational and economical benefits to the community.

The Oyster Reef Restoration program contributes to sustained effort toward meeting the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) goal to restore historic oyster population levels.

Importance of the Estuaries

Estuaries and the lands surrounding them are areas of transition from land to sea, and from freshwater to saltwater. They are among the most productive ecosystems in the world and can be thought of as the "cradle of the ocean."

More that 70 percent of Florida's recreationally and commercially important fish, crustaceans, and shellfish spend the early part of their lives in estuaries, usually in the juvenile or breeding stages. 

Community Participation

Martin County continues to spearhead oyster restoration in the estuaries. One component of the program that depends heavily on community volunteer assistance is the construction of living shorelines.

Volunteers first create the building blocks of the shorelines by making reef balls and bagging recycled oyster, clam and mussel shells collected from local restaurants. The volunteers then gather at the project site to create oyster habitat by placing the Reef Balls and bags in near shore waters. 

Landward of these protected reefs, the volunteers plant mangroves, cordgrass and other shoreline plants to reduce erosion, thereby decreasing sediment deposition in the estuary. In addition to reducing the impact of wave-induced erosion, living shorelines create valuable habitat for critters that play an important part in the food chain.

The combined effect of these efforts will increase the resiliency of shorelines to sea level rise. Citizen involvement not only provides a low cost construction option, but also serves as an educational tool, resulting in a greater awareness and support.

Anyone interested in participating in the FLOOR (Florida Oceanographic Oyster Restoration) program is encouraged to register as a volunteer with Florida Oceanographic Society. Please visit the Florida Oceanographic Society's website to get involved, or call (772) 225-0505.

Restoration efforts will continue to improve water quality in both the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers enabling expanding growth of seagrass and supporting both estuarine and marine fish nurseries.

Monitoring efforts allow adaptive management of this project and have provided useful information on the success of our efforts to build reefs that not only recruit oyster settlement, but also the suit of marine animals that inhabit them.