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To protect a portion of the Baytown Nature Center shoreline from erosive energy from ship wakes, while also educating youth, the City of Baytown and Galveston Bay Foundation are joining forces to develop a living shoreline. 

The two organizations plan to protect the Nature Center’s southwest shoreline with up to 300 linear feet of recycled oyster shells from Galveston Bay Foundation’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program. 

The shells will then provide new homes for baby oysters and will eventually form a sustainable oyster reef that will reduce shoreline erosion and provide habitat to a multitude of species, including the Eastern oyster. 

“This project in particular came about partly because the funding was available and (the Natural Resource Damage Assessment) reached out to us wanting to know if we had some oyster work in that area that could be done — reef restoration that was needed,” Haille Leija, habitat restoration manager for Galveston Bay Foundation, said. “And it turns out the Baytown Nature Center was not only interested in incorporating the oyster education into their programs but also needed the shoreline protection on their southwestern shore.” 

“And that area once had a lot more oysteries in that area, so it’s aiding to both restoration and education,” she added.  

Leija said they’re in the final stages of securing funding with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees and hope to wrap it up in the coming months. The City of Baytown also needs to draft and approve a resolution for the project and will do so soon. 

However, the project is still about a year and a half away because the project will have to go through all the typical permitting channels — Army Corps of Engineers, Port of Houston Authority, etc. 

“After all the permits are in place, we’ll work with students and other volunteers that partner with the Baytown Nature Center to actually place the shells into the water,” Leija said, which could take about two months.   

Galveston Bay Foundation will use about 45 tons of oyster shells for the project, creating a linear restructure that will function as both a wave break and oyster reef habitat. 

“Besides the long linear piece of the reef they will also create smaller sections, which will be used for education,” Tracey Prothro, superintendent of natural resource programs at the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center and Baytown Nature Center, said. 

Two units will be utilized for education, as unit A will be a site of mesh bags filled with oysters while unit B, which will be closer to the shoreline, will consist of gabion baskets filled with oyster shells and riprap (loose stone). 

“One of the sections will be removable oyster cages that we can pick up and take on shore to let students see what an oyster looks like — they can actually hold it and can see what a reef looks like,” Prothro said. “That’s the unique part of this whole project, is these removable stations that they will be able to pick up and see the oyster reef in action.” 

Leija said they also hope to install wet tables at a pavilion near the site so students can further investigate habitats. 

“Students will be able to come out, collect a sample, take it on land, look through it, see all the creatures inhabiting that reef section and then look at differences in oyster recruitment,” Leija said. “There will be all sorts of parameters they can study.”  

In addition to the oyster reefs, Prothro said they would also plant cordgrass behind the reefs to help stabilize sediment and further protect the shoreline from erosion. 

Once everything is installed, Galveston Bay will conduct a three-year monitoring program to study the progress, enhance the reef and measure the success of the project. 

The oyster shells being used by Galveston Bay Foundation are recycled oyster shells that its staff collects from local restaurants, which are then quarantined for about six months. 

“After the six months we look for projects like this to return those shells to the bay, and we do that because those shells are the primary habitat for baby oysters to grow on,” Leija said. “Oyster larvae are free-floating, and in order to survive they have to attach to something solid, like rocks or oyster shells.” 

Since Galveston Bay started its Oyster Shell Recycling Program in 2011, they’ve collected about 870 tons of oysters shells, and on average, recycle about 100 tons a year. 

“Over 50 percent of that shell has already been returned to the bay, and so we’re continuing to source other projects for the remainder of that shell,” Leija said. “And of course, we’re always adding more shell to that volume.” 

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