Recently, a couple of us from Sand Surf Co. had the pleasure of attending an oyster info session and vertical oyster garden building experience hosted by Surfrider Foundation at the Tampa Bay Watch HQ in St Petersburg.
For folks that may not know, the Tampa Bay Watch is a nonprofit established in 1993 who is constantly working to preserve the ecological balance in our Tampa Bay. With this as their MO, they are a great match for Surfrider. We had a great time hanging with the Surfrider team, learning about the importance of oysters to the environment and getting our hands dirty building some vertical gardens.
First let me hit you with some knowledge. Oysters are salt water bivalve mollusks that come in a large variety of shapes, colors and sizes. In addition to being super tasty, they are hugely important to water quality in the bodies of water they inhabit.
Why you ask? Oysters are what are known as filter feeders, effectively filtering the water around them for plankton and organic particles hanging out in the water column. Multiple studies have shown that a single oyster is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water every day (Read that again. . . one single oyster filters 50 gallons a day).
With that level of thirst, oyster reefs can significantly improve water quality and clarity. Oysters typically hang out in large groups known as a bed or an oyster reef and with each one contributing to filtering the water around them these reefs have a positive effect on the surrounding area.
After learning all about these living Brita filters, the crew from Surfrider and guests got to get their hands dirty building some vertical oyster gardens. These vertical gardens basically consist of a length of rope and the shells of previously harvested oysters with a hole drilled in them to allow the rope to pass through. I realize its pretty metal to be building the next generation of oyster on the bones of their predecessors but that’s just how nature works (cue The Circle of Life). How these gardens function is that they are hung from a dock or other waterside structure to create a hard substrate where juvenile oysters, or spat, can attach themselves and develop. During spawning season, juvenile oysters float by on the tide, attach to the hanging shells, grow and form their own shells and start filtering the water around them.
All-in-all it was a fun and educating evening hanging out with the Surfrider crew and learning more about oysters and the Tampa Bay Watch. If you have some extra shells lying around, a drill and some rope you are now uniquely qualified to make your own vertical oyster garden and give something back to our so loved ocean.