Hope is that oyster reef will help clean river

Over the next two days, hundreds of volunteers are helping to build an artificial oyster reef that is being used in a slow battle against the cause of that Indian River fish kill: brown tide.

When brown tide left dissolved oxygen levels near zero in late March, it caused a fish kill, so large, that there are no accurate estimates of the number that died.  The state fish and wildlife agency said brown tide caused the fish to suffocate to death.  "It was very devastating, it was the first time I ever experienced a serious fish kill," said waterfront resident Greg Hendricks. 

That motivated a desire in Hendricks, and others to volunteer for the  Brevard Zoo's Oyster Reef building project.  "There's only so many things a private citizen can do to actually have a benefit to coastal waters," he said.

The volunteers are hand building four artificial oyster reefs in Brevard's lagoon, with each reef containing more than 6,500 oysters.  "Those oysters can actually eat that algae, ao the more oysters we have in the water, the less we are going to have an effect from brown tide."

But the reefs require time and dedication to build. It takes a year-and-half for volunteers to grow oysters in cages off their docks from tiny spat, to three inches.  Each oyster is then zip-tied to square mats which are interconnected and carried to a kayak near shore.  The shellfish are floated and positioned into a grid, making a reef in the shallow area of the lagoon.

Each oyster will immediately begin filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day, but the lagoon, is 156 miles long.

"Right now, this is just a drop in the bucket," Hendricks explained.  "We are so fortunately to have the community behind us, but we need to get as many oysters as we can back in the water."

Over the past two years, it is estimated that volunteers have put in a total of 180,000 oysters back into the Indian River Lagoon.  The Brevard Zoo is extremely reliant on its volunteers.  The project's budget is small, just under $200,000 a year.