MIAMI – One Sunday morning in October, a group of South Florida residents of various ages gathered at Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove for a citizen science project.
Approximately 30,000 oyster shells have been collected from Michael’s Genuine and Kush restaurants, and they could play a key role in saving Biscayne Bay.
âWe’ve been collecting them since January,â said Tico Aran, founder of Watershed Action Lab. “And that’s what we’re going to use to make the oyster lines.”
Seafood lovers may find oysters a delicacy, but did you know that they also play a vital role in protecting our coasts from hurricanes and the clean pollution of our waterways?
The key species is under urgent restoration along the Florida coast as climate change and pollution threaten our planet and our way of life. And a community is coming together to bring back the lost oysters from Biscayne Bay.
“When people hear that Biscayne Bay is dying, it seems like too big a problem and it’s someone else’s job to take care of it,” Aran said. âSo how do we ask ourselves what can we do? “
Aran, originally from Miami, does not wait for the cavalry. Shaken by the devastating death of fish in the bay last summer – triggered by a sudden drop in oxygen due to a massive loss of seagrass due to decades of pollution flowing through the watershed – Aran was pushed finding a solution, and he believes he found it under the dock of his family home in Old Cutler Bay.
âWe saw the shells outside, but we didn’t know what they were,â he said. âSo my dad said, ‘Hey, if you really want to clean up the bay, those oyster shells are the key. “
Oysters are nature’s filter, historically flourishing here in the billions in the early 1900s, before Biscayne Bay was dredged up and carved up.
âIn an 1895 report, they literally described oysters as luxurious growth,â Aran said.
Today, they are considerably less in number but still present in pockets of the watershed, doing the job nature designed them for: eating the pollution of the water in which they grow. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, and females can produce over 100 million babies per year.
âIf we get 25 million adult oysters in the water, we’re talking about a $ 4 billion wastewater treatment plant,â Aran said. â1.25 billion gallons of water per day can be filtered. “
Thus was born the Watershed Action Lab of Aran, a plan to restore the lost oyster population of Biscayne Bay in order to save it.
âAnd there’s an oyster farm – right below it’s covered in oysters,â he said. âSo it’s a perfect example of a living shore. It provides filtration, it creates habitat. We need to understand that biology is the key to this nutrient cycling process.
There are two species of oysters here in South Florida, the thinner flat oysters which prefer saltier water and the oriental oysters which thrive in more brackish water.
You can find them in clusters along docks pilings, mangrove roots, and limestone rock in the waterways that stretch from Oleta State Park in Miami Beach, to Deering Estate and into the Coral Gables waterway where Aran launches his experiment.
âThey are everywhere,â he said. âIt’s about how to support the oyster population by giving them enough population that predators don’t wipe them out.
The key is to create more surface area for the baby oysters to hang on. So, by stringing together recycled shells sun-dried for three months to kill any bacteria, these lines are then tied under docks near thriving colonies, mimicking mangrove roots that give baby oysters an ideal habitat exposed to both l air and water when the tide changes. .
âSo basically what we’re doing here is we’re trying to create a little nursery under people’s docks for the oysters to grow,â Aran said.
As the oysters develop, they will be transferred to cages, acting as baby factories, providing a flow of oyster larvae that will drain into the stream.
Aran is not a marine biologist. He has a master’s degree in public health and runs a kombucha business with his wife, but Ana Zangroniz is a scientist and part of the academic team advising him.
âYes, it will work,â said Zangroniz, Florida Sea Grant extension agent for Miami-Dade County. âStarting by hanging these lines under the docks seems like a viable way, and we’re pretty confident that if you put seashells in the water, they’ll come. “
And that’s how a community comes together to make it happen. Aran will need a thousand lines to start. So far, he’s 40.
Shan Ming, a 10-year-old student, said, “I want to help Biscayne Bay and help save it.”
Proving that no matter what age, everyone can play a role in saving the bay.
âTo be able to bring together a community, which comes together actively and intentionally for a purpose, to build a healthy and safe Biscayne Bay for our children and grandchildren, is a beautiful thing,â said Aran.
Oysters alone won’t save Biscayne Bay, but they may give the bay more time to breathe as we urgently work to improve our failing infrastructure.
So far, Aran has funded $ 15,000 to help fund the mission, and he plans to recruit more schools and volunteers to help complete the lines he needs to get the project started. He’s also looking for volunteers to kayak along the canals of South Florida in search of live oyster beds that can serve as habitat to set up the lines, and waterfront owners ready to welcome them.
If you want to help, Click here to visit his website.
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