KEMAH — Tourists won’t see it, but Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials hope a new oyster reef only a few feet from the Kemah Boardwalk will have a large impact.
Approximately 250 cubic yards — about 200 tons — of recycled oyster shell was dumped in about eight feet of water just east of the Kemah Boardwalk last week.
While this reef will never be harvested, it will provide ecological services and habitat for a variety of sea creatures, said Bryan Legare, a natural resource specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The reef, along with its accompanying signs and pamphlets, will teach visitors about a “more sustainable approach to the fishery,” Legare said.
Legare said that local oystermen sell oysters to local restaurants. Restaurants can then work with the Galveston Bay Foundation to recycle the shells. Those shells are then used in restoration projects that provide more habitat for oysters and other creatures.
The alternative is that the shells can end up as construction material or in chicken feed, he said.
For this project, the Misho Oyster Co. in San Leon provided the shells as well as the boat and labor. The shells where sprayed into the water with two water cannons.
“It’s just such a high profile area,” Legare said. “It’s just a great opportunity to teach the masses about oyster reefs and their importance.”
Matthew Abernathy, a conservation programs outreach specialist with the Galveston Bay Foundation, said three restaurants on the Boardwalk — Landry’s Seafood, the Flying Dutchman and the Aquarium restaurant — have joined the oyster shell recycling program.
After being cured, the shell is used in the foundation’s oyster gardening program. The foundation works with waterfront property owners in Seabrook, Kemah, Bacliff and San Leon to suspend bags of oyster shells in the water. Young oysters can attach to the shells and grow.
“It acts as a settling point for oyster larvae,” Abernathy said.
At the end of summer, the new oysters growing in the bags will be placed over the new reef by the Boardwalk, he said.
Since the reef won’t be harvested, it will help produce more young oysters, or spat, that can spread to other areas of the bay.
Oysters and their reefs provide important ecological services. They filter water, protect the shoreline and control erosion.
The reef will also provide important habitat not just for oysters, who need a yard substrate to attach to, but for crabs and shrimp as well, Legare said.
That will eventually attract larger fish.
“There’s all kinds of fishermen around here, and they are going to end of up loving this,” Legare said.