“The construction of Alaqua Bayou reef was truly a community effort, from the restaurants to the volunteers who built the reef with their own two hands.”
EGLIN AFB — The largest oyster shell reef in Choctawhatchee Bay watershed, coming in at 1,700 feet in Alaqua Bayou, has been completed through the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance of Northwest Florida State College in partnership with Eglin Air Force Base.
Using shells collected from local restaurants, the reef will reduce shoreline erosion, provide habitat for juvenile oysters and enhance the ecosystem for fish, crustaceans and more, according to a press release from CBA. Because each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, the reef will improve water quality in the bayou.
Throughout 2017, CBA and nearly a dozen restaurants in Okaloosa and Walton counties recycled oyster shells for the reef. Participating restaurants included the Shrimp Basket, Whole Foods, The Bay, Back Porch, O’Quigley’s, Crab Trap, Kenny D’s, Captain Dave’s, Half Shell in Destin, Shunk Gulley and AJ’s in Grayton Beach.
It took more than a year to collect the oyster shells, which were combined with fossilized shells to construct the reef. Actual construction of the reef took seven months, according to Erika Zambello, the CBA’s communications and marketing director.
After the oyster shells were dried, they were bagged by volunteers including high school students, NWF State baseball players, church groups and CBA staff and AmeriCorps members. The shell bags are now stacked as a pyramid and the top of the reef, which runs from 1 foot to 2 feet high, is visible even during high tide.
The CBA estimates that 13,000 bags of oyster shells were used for the Alaqua Bayou reef. Each bag weighed 20 to 30 pounds, while bags of fossilized shells weighed in at 30 to 40 pounds.
“The construction of Alaqua Bayou reef was truly a community effort, from the restaurants to the volunteers who built the reef with their own two hands,” CBA director Alison McDowell said. “With each new project, we bring the oyster populations in the bay back to historic levels, enhancing both water quality and habitat for a range of species.”
“Alaqua Bayou was one of my absolute favorite sites,” said Rachel Gwin, CBA’s restoration coordinator. “It is so peaceful out there, and because it is all undeveloped Eglin reservation area, we saw a variety of wildlife including many dolphins and ospreys, a few bald eagles and a softshell turtle. The reef is already teeming with life.”
The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance works to enhance swimmable and fishable waterways through monitoring, education, restoration and research. The CBA has promoted stewardship of the Choctawhatchee watershed for more than 20 years through a growing network of supporters.