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Creating oyster habitat for a healthier Tampa Bay

The Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) was once abundant in Tampa Bay, with estimates as high as 2,000 acres of oyster reefs found throughout the estuary prior to the 1940s. Due to numerous human-related activities, it is estimated that 171 acres of oyster habitat remain, which represents an 85% loss in area. Due to this need, Tampa Bay Watch developed the Community Oyster Reef Enhancement (CORE) program in the early 2000s to help restore lost oyster habitat in Tampa Bay.

image: oysters in hand

How do oysters improve Tampa Bay?

Increasing oyster growth in Tampa Bay will provide a number of measureable ecological benefits:

  • The Eastern Oyster serves as ecosystem engineers by creating habitat for other mollusks, worms, crustaceans, and invertebrates.
  • Oyster reefs provide diverse food sources or foraging areas for a variety of important fish, birds, and other wildlife species.
  • Oyster reefs function as natural shoreline attenuation structures, protecting the shore from high levels of erosion during storm events or from increased ship and boat wakes.
  • Oysters provide a natural cleansing system for the bay, as an individual oyster may filter from 1 to 5 gallons of seawater every hour. They feed on suspended phytoplankton and algae and dispose of other particulates as psuedofeces on the sediments surrounding the reef. This often results in clearer water, encouraging increased growth and production of seagrasses.
  • The vertical growth of oyster reefs is greater than that of expected sea level rise, so healthy reefs should persist to serve as wave breaks and protect shorelines from erosion, intertidal habitat loss, and property damage and loss along estuarine shorelines.

It takes a community of volunteers!

The goal of the CORE program is to engage the Tampa Bay community in hands-on habitat restoration programs that enhance stewardship and provide unique environmental education opportunities.

Through our oyster restoration program opportunities, community volunteers, corporate groups, and school groups work with together with our scientists to restore and enhance habitats around Tampa Bay. Fortunately, oysters do occur naturally throughout the bay, but the CORE programs provide greater surface area onto which they can attach in the form of oyster shell bags, oyster reef balls, and vertical oyster gardens.

Click on the links below to learn more about each of these programs.