In an effort to preserve the salty Sweetwater Lake ecosystem in Galveston, the coastal crew extended the Galveston Bay Foundation’s (GBF) artificial oyster reef by 125 feet. The reef had already been established in length by numerous volunteer groups that worked with GBF, including the evidently superhuman Girl Scouts, fabled to have planted 25 feet of reef per hour.
Comprised entirely of 30-pound bags of oyster shells, the reef is constructed in a triangular prism formation atop 25-foot sections of filter fabric used to stabilize the reef. The project entailed the extensive bagging of the appropriate quantity of shells from a massive pile sourced from restaurants around the area with oysters on their menus. The bags are then heaved into buoyant tubs and floated two footballs fields down the shoreline to the new reef site, where they are lain in a 4-2-1 cross-sectional configuration, as instructed by GBF. Whether building reef or filling bags, the week required a lot more work and heavy lifting than we had anticipated. Luckily, we learned an effective stretch for our trapezius muscles from our field coordinator, Rich Wehmeyer, who has had hulkish traps since the second grade.
This artificial reef beside the shore provides a new habitat for oysters (a keystone species which themselves create habitat), shrimp, and crabs, among others, which subsequently support the rest of the food web, as evidenced by the heavy splashing noticed on the last day during a lunch break spent relaxing on the reef. Free-swimming oyster larvae require surfaces to attach to in order to mature and tend to prefer adhering to other oyster shells, making the reef the perfect structure to promote and sustain oyster population growth, which in turn increases the effective area for even more wildlife. The reef also serves as a wave break, dampening the power of the waves before they reach the shore so as to mitigate erosion and preserve the marshlands. The difference between the waves on the lake side of the reef and the ripples on the shore side was instantly gratifying and certainly motivated me throughout the day.
For much of the week, our steady pace was oddly consistently interrupted by lightning storms, which one day included the awe-inspiring but terrifying beginnings of a tornado, whose two twisting, funneled ends mingled in a playful dance, fortunately never able to seduce each other into a dangerous marriage. Down a couple members each day and with crew leader Derek still away caring for newborn Derek II, we can’t help but imagine what Girl-Scout-esque accomplishments we might have approached at full capacity.
Another slight distraction, albeit a welcome one, came with Abe Moore, a one-man film crew from Texas Parks and Wildlife, who recorded every aspect of the work we were doing on the reef for a small segment in an episode that will feature GBF’s oyster reef project on PBS. To our dismay, the show will air in one year: too long for a non-native species like myself to witness on live TV, but it should at least be available online. Abe brought an excellent opportunity for TXCC members to publicly advertise the perks of this Americorps-partnered program as well as conservation work in general. He also provided us with a thorough look into an alternative opportunity for members interested in manifesting any multimedia inclinations they may have within the field of conservation.
Despite not having reached our overly ambitious goal of 250 feet — much less 25 feet per hour, the coastal crew looks forward to working with GBF next week and hopes for future chance to finish the work they started in Sweetwater.
Michael Lee – Coastal Restoration Crew