Oyster reef restoration in the northern Gulf of Mexico: Extent, methods and outcomes

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Shellfish reef restoration to support ecological services has become more common in recent decades, driven by increasing awareness of the functional decline of shellfish systems. Maximizing restoration benefits and increasing efficiency of shellfish restoration activities would greatly benefit from understanding and measurement of system responses to management activities. This project (1) compiles a database of northern Gulf of Mexico inshore artificial oyster reefs created for restoration purposes, and (2) quantitatively assesses a subset of reefs to determine project outcomes. We documented 259 artificial inshore reefs created for ecological restoration. Information on reef material, reef design and monitoring was located for 94, 43 and 20% of the reefs identified. To quantify restoration success, we used diver surveys to quantitatively sample oyster density and substrate volume of 11 created reefs across the coast (7 with rock; 4 with shell), paired with 7 historic reefs. Reefs were defined as fully successful if there were live oysters, and partially successful if there was hard substrate. Of these created reefs, 73% were fully successful, while 82% were partially successful. These data highlight that critical information related to reef design, cost, and success remain difficult to find and are generally inaccessible or lost, ultimately hindering efforts to maximize restoration success rates. Maintenance of reef creation information data, development of standard reef performance measures, and inclusion of material and reef design testing within reef creation projects would be highly beneficial in implementing adaptive management. Adaptive management protocols seek specifically to maximize short and long-term restoration success, but are critically dependent on tracking and measuring system responses to management activities. © 2013.

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Ocean and Coastal Management

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