Oyster gardens to help restore declining oyster population

Jessica Clark reporting, 01/10/2017

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- It is oyster season, but that important part of Florida's seafood economy is on the decline statewide and across the world.

So the state of Florida is asking the Average Joe for some help. He -- or she -- can help restore the oyster population by becoming an oyster gardener.

Kevin Carrigan is an oyster gardener in his free time. He loves the water. His front yard sits on Salt Run in St. Augustine.

"I like fishing and I like to swim in here and so I wanted clean water and the oysters help filter the water," he said.

So he volunteered to be an oyster gardener with the University of Florida's Whitney Lab in St. Johns County. After a one-hour training course, he -- like others -- is able to grow oysters in cages off docks that sit on salt water.

"We have a couple oyster cages out here," Carrigan pointed to the dock. "Two of them are hanging off the dock."

He pulled a cage up to the dock and pulled an oyster shell out of it with smaller oysters on it. "These started as basic oysters and it's only been a month or so and this empty shell started growing little tiny oysters. When they get big, each one will filter up to 50 gallons of water a day."

He said the work is not exhaustive at all.

"We take water quality samples, the temperature, the gravity, kind of clean them and we analyze the growth rate," Carrigan explained.

It takes about an hour or two a week.

"In 8 or 9 months this whole cage will be full of oysters. And they'll be put back on the reefs as part of the oyster restoration program," Carrigan noted.

That's important because scientists say the world's oyster population has declined by 80-85 percent due to environmental damage.

The oyster is one of Florida's top selling seafood and it's important for coastal erosion control and wildlife habitat.

So people like Carrigan want to be a part of saving the oyster -- one shell at a time.

There are about 50 oyster gardens in the St. Augustine area right now.

The program started in the fall. And the University of Florida's Whitney Lab is looking for more volunteers to be oyster gardeners.

For more information, click here.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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