Enhancing Coastal Resiliency via Shell Recycling, Restoration and Community Partnerships

Coastal environments are recognized for providing ecological benefits and supporting coastal resiliency. However, the Texas coast is vulnerable to pressures from natural disasters and human activities. Restoration of oyster reefs can help communities become more resilient by providing natural buffers against storms, improving water quality, supplying critical habitat, and supporting coastal recreation and tourism. Building on previous successes in oyster reef restoration, Dr. Jennifer Pollack, HRI Chair for Costal Conservation and Restoration, will lead this project comprised of the following tasks:

1. Recycling oyster shells for habitat restoration

Oyster reefs are valued ecological and economic resources; however, their populations are in decline throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Restoration efforts to rebuild lost habitat are often limited by a lack of oyster shells, the preferred substrate for constructing reefs. HRI’s Sink Your ShucksTM program reclaims shucked oyster shells from partner restaurants, seafood wholesalers, and festivals and recycles them for reef restoration. Through this project, the program will add two new restaurants and build on previous success of recycling 1.6 million pounds of shells, engaging 2,000 volunteers, and restoring 20+ acres of reef.

2. Community-based restoration events

Dr. Pollack and her team will host biannual community-based restoration events, inviting coastal residents and visitors to participate in hands-on habitat restoration by creating shell bags to use as building blocks for restoring reefs (funded by external partners). The team will partner with Texas State Parks to expand opportunities for families to connect with nature, while boosting shoreline protection benefits that enhance coastal resiliency.

3. Citizen science integration

To ensure that the next generation of young scientists and coastal stewards have more than just a textbook-level understanding of local environmental issues, our citizen science integrator (CSI), a certified aquatic science teacher, will visit schools, special programs, and events to provide support and resources to integrate ‘Sink Your Shucks Science’ from the field to the classroom. The CSI will work directly with teachers to integrate prior Coastal Management Program educational materials and curricula on oyster reef restoration.

4. Ecosystem service assessment of reefs

Dr. Pollack’s team will evaluate the effects of conservation status on ecosystem services by comparing: (1) habitat provision, (2) fisheries enhancement, and (3) nitrogen removal between sanctuary-style and harvestable restored reefs in Copano Bay. By evaluating reefs restored at the same time, in the same estuary, but with different protections from dredge disturbance, we can gain a better understanding of ecosystem services provided by different restored reef types. This knowledge is completely lacking in the restoration literature, providing the opportunity to make a strong contribution to future management and restoration practice.