Researchers have linked the disappearance of seagrass in Florida (thought to be behind this winter’s explosion of manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon) to a decades-long decline in water quality. But those working to restore the estuary in Volusia County hope living shorelines can help reverse the trend.
“We want to be at the cutting edge of what’s going on in shoreline restoration,” said Greg Wilson, chief scientific officer for the Edgewater-based Riverside Conservancy.
Living shorelines are designed to replicate the natural layout of an estuary, before homes were built and seawalls routinely installed. Walking from the backyard to the Indian River Lagoon, homeowners would first encounter a row of mangroves, then an intertidal zone where clams are submerged, and an oyster reef beyond that breaks the wave action.
It all pays off, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — improving water quality, limiting erosion, protecting against flooding, providing increased habitat for fisheries, sequestering carbon and supporting biodiversity.
“What the homeowner I think will notice more than anything is a return of fish to the area,” said Kelli McGee, the conservancy’s executive director.
Riverside Conservancy is trying to make it easy for homeowners with waterfront property to do their part, tapping into a St. Johns River Water Management District grant to restore a quarter mile of shoreline on the Indian River Lagoon this year.
“That’s available to homeowners right now,” McGee said. “It just requires a conservation easement.”
The conservation easement would then be monitored (at no cost to homeowners) by the conservancy, meaning they’d replant mangroves that don’t survive and check up to make sure oysters and barnacles are settling in the area.
“It’s really difficult right now to do the right thing. With seawalls, you hire a contractor and you pay a lot of money,” McGee said. “We want to create models for shoreline restoration that improve habitat, improve our fisheries, then let local businesses grow to supplying these things, she said. We want to make conservation profitable.”
Curious to learn more?Email Riverside Conservancy at email@example.com
One of the keys to it all is a species more than 200 million years old: oysters.
Oysters are filter feeders, extracting nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from the water. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, according to NOAA.
When oysters reproduce twice a year, their offspring are flung into the water column, and chemical signals guide the larvae to the surfaces to which they’ll attach and spend the rest of their lives growing on. Oyster beds can form on…