Oysters in the Gulf of Mexico
Jeff DeQuattro, a marine program director for The Nature Conservancy, examines young Gulf oysters. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, partnered with The Nature Conservancy in Texas to undertake an ecosystem restoration project that will create up to 12 acres of sub-tidal reef and habitat located within the northernmost extent of the Half Moon Reef in Matagorda Bay, Texas.

GALVESTON, Texas (Nov. 20, 2012) -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, partnered with The Nature Conservancy in Texas to undertake an ecosystem restoration project that will create up to 12 acres of sub-tidal reef and habitat located within the northernmost extent of the Half Moon Reef in Matagorda Bay, Texas.

With construction slated to begin in the spring of 2013, the $1.3 million cost-shared Half Moon Reef project will result in increased water filtration, improved water quality in the bay, enhanced marine habitat and allow species of plants and animals to colonize.

"This is the first design-build ecosystem restoration project of this kind in the USACE Galveston District," said Byron Williams, a project manager with the USACE Galveston District. "While environmental impacts and mitigation are considered in every project managed by the Corps, the Galveston District is able to carry out aquatic restoration and protection projects if environmental quality is improved, it is in the public's interest and is cost effective for taxpayers."

This 12-acre project is the first segment of a larger, 60-acre reef restoration project spearheaded by the Conservancy. The total cost of the broader project is estimated around $5 million, with the remaining funding provided by the Texas General Land Office.

According to Mark Dumesnil, associate director of coastal restoration for The Nature Conservancy in Texas, the reef was once 400 acres in aerial extent and was considered one of the most commercially productive oyster reefs on the mid-Texas coast. Today the reef is mostly devoid of live oysters from a combination of factors including changes in hydrology, overfishing and shell dredging.

Oyster reefs are associated with feeding stations for large predatory fish, which is key for the fishing tourism industry," said Williams. "This restoration may enhance socio-economic benefits provided by fishing tourism in this area."

According to Dumesnil, oysters filter up to five liters -- or about two gallons -- per hour.

"Oysters are the natural purification system of the Gulf, constantly pulling out pollution, sediment, and harmful algal blooms from Gulf waters. The presence of healthy oyster reefs also boost aquatic life and act as storm barriers for coastal communities," said Dumesnil.

Since the project is being constructed on submersed land in Matagorda County and the Texas General Land Office owns the rights to the bay bottom, a lease is required for project to be built.

"Sixty years was the term agreed upon between all the agencies," said Williams. "This year, a nationwide permit was granted for environmental compliance of the proposed work on the submersed land."

In addition to its partnership with The Nature Conservancy in Texas, the district is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Natural Resource Conservation Service and state entities including the Office of the Governor, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas General Land Office, Texas Railroad Commission, Texas State Historical Preservation Office, Texas Soil and Water Conservation Board, and the Galveston Bay National Estuaries Program.

According to Williams, the project will be monitored for a minimum of 5 years to determine when the reef becomes self-sustainable; however, sustainability could be achieved in as early as 12 months following project completion.

To learn more about environmental efforts in the USACE Galveston District, visit http://www.swg.usace.army.mil/BusinessWithUs/PlanningEnvironmentalBranch/EnvironmentalSection.aspx. For more news and information, visit www.swg.usace.army.mil. Find us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEgalveston.

PROJECT MILESTONES
•The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works approved the project partnership agreement on Aug. 24, 2012.
•The USACE Southwestern Division Regional Integration Team approved and submitted the project partnership agreement for execution to the USACE Galveston District Aug. 28, 2012.
•The 60 year lease between Texas General Land Office and The Nature Conservancy of Texas (TNC) was signed on Aug. 30, 2012.
•The final project partnership agreement was signed by TNC and executed by the USACE Galveston District Commander on Sept. 17, 2012.
•Funding of $825,000 was requested and received on Sept. 26, 2012.
•The first project delivery team meeting with TNC was held Oct. 19, 2012.
•Plans, specifications and environmental coordination is currently underway.
•Construction is expected to begin in the second quarter of fiscal year 2013.

Page last updated Tue November 20th, 2012 at 00:00