In the Mississippi Oyster Gardening Program, volunteers who have access to waterfront property along the Mississippi gulf coast grow oysters in gardens that hang from their piers.
Gardeners clean the gardens weekly from June to November by pulling them out of the water and rinsing off mud, algae and any other fouling material. After visually inspecting the gardens and removing predators, such as blue crabs, stone crabs and oyster drills, the gardeners return the gardens to the water.
On average, each volunteer will grow 250 oysters per garden. The oysters will grow into large clumps as seen in the picture below. Oyster reefs are formed by high densities of clumps in one area. As the reefs continue to grow through settling of spat (young oysters), they develop a matrix of interstitial spaces that provide habitat for over 300 different species.
At the end of each oyster gardening season, all oysters are collected from the volunteers and planted on restoration reefs in cooperation with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. The end goal is that these reefs will continue to grow naturally and become self sustaining.
Why Its Important
Oyster Gardening is a great way for gardeners to interact with the environment and participate in restoration. Oysters from this project are planted on restoration reefs along the Mississippi gulf coast. As the reefs continue to grow through settling of spat, they develop a matrix of interstitial spaces that provide habitat for other species. In addition to providing habitat, oysters improve water quality by feeding on phytoplankton, and filtering out excess nutrients. Oyster reefs also help to dissipate wave energy along the coast which helps to stabilize the shoreline. Oyster gardening provides an opportunity for gardeners to participate in ecological restoration by helping improve water quality, create habitat, and stabilize shorelines.
Program partners include the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, and the Volunteer Oyster Gardening Community. With appreciation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, and Governor Phil Bryant.