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Using oyster gardens to help the water in Charlotte County

Oysters are a keystone species that can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-26 18:23:57-05

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) has been hosting workshops and educating people on how to build vertical oyster gardens: a simple, yet powerful way to improve the water quality in Charlotte Harbor.

Oysters, a keystone species, can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day according to CHEC.

"They are silently providing a tremendous ecosystem service by filtering those large volumes of water," said Ashley Cook, CHEC's Alligator Creek Park Manager. "The more oysters that we have in the harbor, the more water is going to be filtered and the cleaner our water is going to be."

As mighty as the mollusks may be, according to CHEC their population in Charlotte Harbor has dropped 90%. CHEC cites pollution and dredging among reasons for the dramatic decline. Additionally, sediment in the water has coated the hard structures juveniles need to attach to in order to mature. That's where vertical oyster gardens come in.

Vertical oyster gardens (VOG) are made of reclaimed oyster shells from local restaurants that are dried, strung onto rope, and hung from docks connected to the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

"Stringing up these oyster shells on this coconut rope will actually create the perfect condominium for these juvenile oysters to find and to settle on so they can do what they do best, which is filter water," said Cook."

Inviting the public to participate in building VOGs, and hanging them from their docks at home makes oyster and water conservation a personal responsibility.

"It gives you the opportunity to be very hands on, feel like you're really a part of it, and observe and see the oysters progress on the vertical oyster gardens we've established," said Rick Sluzewski, who participated in a VOG workshop.

Eventually, the VOGs made during CHEC workshops will be recollected and added to a nearby oyster reef, to continue building the population.

To learn more about VOGs, and how you can get involved in oyster and water conservation, click here.