CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — With the population of oysters down an estimated 50-percent in the Gulf of Mexico and its bays for a variety of reasons, a partnership including Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi's Harte Research Institute is using recycled concrete to create new oyster reefs.
On Friday, they lowered the concrete from a barge into six-foot deep water in Aransas Bay off the shore of Goose Island State Park.
“(It's nice) to get something that could be used somewhere else -- but wouldn’t it be great to use it for something good for the planet," H.R.I. Associate Director Gail Sutton said.
New reefs come with a variety of benefits beyond helping the oyster population recover from unsustainable harvesting, storms, and other detriments.
Harte Research Institute scientists say oysters are natural water filters which improve water quality.
They also say oyster reefs can protect shorelines from erosion during hurricanes and tropical storms.
The proof, they say, is a similar reef to the one the built Friday but on the other side of the state park in St. Charles Bay that they built in 2017.
“We completed that about three weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit," H.R.I. Chair for Coastal Conservation and Restoration Jennifer Pollack said. "Harvey passed right over that reef, and it really survived that storm really well. It provided a lot of benefits — protection on the shoreline."
The TAMUCC scientists are constructing the reef in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency and Derrick Construction Company.
The recycled concrete they're using was donated to them by the Palacios Marine Agriculture Research Institute which the Ed Rachal Foundation recently formed in Corpus Christi.
“This is a great example of how a government agency, an academic institution, a research institution, and private parties can all come together to make something good for the environment," Sutton said.
The Harte Research Institute has been constructing oyster reefs in Coastal Bend waters since 2009.
They estimate that 25 acres have been built so far, and Friday's construction will make it 11 acres in Aransas Bay alone.
Among the benefits, it means more oysters to eat for oyster-lovers -- like those H.R.I. researchers.
“Oysters are something that it seems a lot of people can get behind," Pollack said. "Living in coastal Texas, it’s kind of this iconic species that people think about."