Another successful oyster gardening season in Little Lagoon

Another successful oyster gardening season in Little Lagoon
Krista Marcum’s GSHS Gulf Coast Ecology students lead the way
By Fran Thompson
Oyster gardeners in Little Lagoon are cleaning and stashing cages for the winter after producing 1,954 oysters this season. The oysters were picked up during the last week of October for distribution at a restoration location in Eastern Mobile Bay.
Preparations for the 2022 season will begin in January. Anyone with property and a pier on Little Lagoon that is interested in getting involved, can email oystergardening@auburn. edu. All you need is 30 minutes to spare every 7-10 days and pier access.
The 2021 program included 32 sites, with Gulf Shores High School teacher Krista Marcum’s Gulf Coast Ecology students and several summer interns (Carmen Morales and Grant Stewart) leading the effort by growing a total of 7,170 oysters spread over 26 cages.
Laurie & Tom Eberly had the largest single garden with 2,460 oysters. Equally as impressive single gardens were harvested at The Original Oyster House (2,270 oysters), and the piers at the homes of Robert & Sara Swartz, Bill Roberson (1,950 oysters) and Avery Bird (1,790 oysters).
LLPS volunteers Deborah Hatfield, Lloyd Moore and Beth Sutton picked up oysters from cages, with help from GSHS students Hannah Ryan, Kyra Zills, and Rodni Calo.
“I do believe we have now grown over 200,000 restoration oysters for the health of the Lagoon and Mobile Bay,’’ said Dennis Hatfield, president of the Little Lagoon Preservation Society.
The LLPS started recruiting gardeners for the program in 2017. Gear is ordered and paid for with LLPS funds and grants.
Team leader PJ Waters of MS-AL Sea Grant conducts seminars on the finer points of gardening and cage maintenance before the season starts in early June. The harvested oysters are transported to the Auburn Shellfish lab for distribution via boat on the Fort Morgan Ferry to closed reefs in Mobile Bay selected by the Alabama Marine Resources Division.
“This is a very popular program with potential difference making benefits for the Lagoon and Mobile Bay,’’ Hatfield said. “It is also an exceptional outreach tool for area residents and GSHS science students. People seem to love gardening oysters, even though they can’t eat them. Some people visit and talk with their oysters daily.’’
Hatfield added that volunteers are available for those who wish to have a Little Lagoon pier but cannot provide the needed attention. Sponsors to help expand the program are also welcome. For LLPS sponsor or membership info, email Hatfield at scoopsinc@gulftel.com.
Oysters, of course, are an essential part of a healthy estuarine environment. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day.
Mobile Bay oyster reefs are at about 5 percent of historical levels, according to Waters. Similar trends have been seen throughout the Gulf Coast. As a result, fish, shrimp and crab populations are in decline from Bayou La Batre to Alabama Point. Providing oyster bed habitat can stop these declines.
“The oyster gardening efforts of the Little Lagoon Preservation Society are a step in that direction,’’ Hatfield said.
“Not only do the gardens provide habitat, they increase public awareness of the need to improve the environmental quality of Little Lagoon,’’ he added.
Pictured: Little Lagoon oysters heading across Mobile Bay on the Dauphin Island Ferry. (Photo by Conrad Horst/Alabama Cooperative Extension)

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