The Santa Rosa County Oyster Habitat Restoration project, made possible from an allocation of RESTORE ACT funds to Santa Rosa County, was initiated in 2019 to map and assess the condition of existing oyster reefs in East and Blackwater Bays and to design and implement a pilot oyster shell recycling program. The information gained from this project is the foundation needed to restore Santa Rosa County’s oyster fishery and habitat. Restoration of oysters for harvest, habitat and their ecosystem services is a primary goal of the Oyster Fishery and Restoration 2021 Plan for the Pensacola Bay System developed by community stakeholders. Knowledge of where oysters occur within an estuary and their condition, or health, are critical to establishing a comprehensive baseline of oyster resources to inform restoration. Yet for the Pensacola Bay System, this data has been missing or not up to date, until now. Restoration also requires the right shell materials in quantities sufficient for oyster habitat restoration. Since 2020, Santa Rosa County has collected over 24,000 pounds of recycled oyster shells from local restaurants for future projects. Laura Geselbracht, with The Nature Conservancy in Florida, and Christina Verlinde, with Santa Rosa County UF/IFAS Sea Grant Extension Office, will present on the results of the oyster mapping and shell recycling program progress and how the data will be used to inform future oyster restoration.
A subsequent webinar opportunity that includes results in Escambia County will be hosted by the Pensacola Perdido Bay Estuary Program.