Press to build oyster reefs after the devastation of the hurricane
Reefs would benefit the ecosystem and serve as natural barriers to hurricanes
SAN LEON, Texas – It’s almost a year ago that Hurricane Harvey battered, the oyster population off the coast of Galveston County.
Excessive rainfall and freshwater runoff exhausted salinities in the bay, almost cut off from the oysters in the bay, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. That had consequences still being felt in the oyster-industry.
“Oysters need brackish water, a good mix of fresh and salt water to thrive. In our case, the fresh water that came through, it killed half the population or more,” Raz Halili, vice president of Prestige Oysters, an oyster distributor.
Prestige Oysters, one of the nation’s leading oyster distributor, is the adoption of 10,000 tonnes of limestone for a new oyster reef off the coast of Galveston County.
That has almost crippled the once thriving oyster industry in the Galveston Bay, which provides about 15 percent of the nation’s oyster harvest and deposit $50 million in the state of the economy.
Limestone is a substrate for oysters, so they have something to hold when they spawn.
There are several attempts to restore the oyster reefs in the area. In October, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department completed restoration efforts on four areas in Galveston Bay.
Last week, Prestige Oysters established of 10,000 tons of limestone for a new oyster reef—the first new reef on a private lease in the area in about 40 years.
“What this will do is it will ensure that the surface for the oysters that are out there, and when they spawn they’ll have something to catch on, and it will be the structure of the reef,” said Halili.
Halili and his family take on the endeavour of each year—the laying of limestone in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past 10 years, Halili estimates they have planted approximately 120,000 tons of limestone off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.
Sustainability is the key to ensure that this way of life. But, the building of oyster reefs not only provide for a harvest.
“Oysters are a keystone species. When you are building an oyster reef, it comes to everyone. They filter our waters. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 litres of water per day. And, at the same time, they create new life for shrimp, crab and fish that will feed off the oyster reef,” said Halili.
Hurricane Harvey was not the first setback for the multi-million dollar industry. In 2008, Hurricane Ike loop through the region, burying them under deep sediment and suffocating large part of the population.
“We’re just now beginning to recover from Ike,” said Halili.
Hurricane Harvey caused salinity levels to drop, which leads to high mortality of oysters and dealing a devastating blow to companies such as the Prestige of Oysters.
Environmental experts said oyster reefs have an additional advantage during the hurricane season.
“What oysters do is to ensure that the barrier to the shore of the coastline, and it helps with the removal of a part of the energy from waves. There is a lot of efforts, where people are trying to establish oyster reefs not only in deeper water for the harvest, but also on the coasts,” said George Guillen, executive director of the Environment Institute at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
Prestige Oysters is probably not a good harvest of their most recent website for two or three years—the time it takes for the oysters to reach market size.
The threat of severe weather is everywhere. However, Halili said, they are not impressed.
“Being able to take advantage of the business and the ecosystem at the same time, it is a great feeling,” said Halili. “I would like to see more of these efforts.”
Madeleine Rivera is a multimedia reporter based in Houston, Texas.