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.
They clean the gardens weekly from June to November by pulling the gardens 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.
Can you find the juvenile blue crab in the picture to the left? They can be hard to find, but it is important to remove crabs like this from your gardens.
On Average, each volunteer will grow 250 oysters per garden. The oysters will grow into large clumps as seen in the picture below. Areas with high densities of clumps form oyster reefs. As the reefs continue to grow through settling of spat (young oysters) it develops a matrix of interstitial spaces that provide habitat for approximately 300 different species.
At the end of the 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.
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 State of Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant, and Dr. Robert Kroger, Covington Civil and Environmental.