NOAA: Protecting Georgia’s Coast with Oyster Reefs


Two projects assisting oyster reef habitat restoration that will protect Georgia’s saltwater marshes and coastline.

With a depleting shoreline and rising sea levels, scientists in coastal Georgia have been looking to further protect their shorelines with the restoration of oyster reef habitats. Restoring oyster reef habitats has been a point of focus for the health of Georgia’s salt marshes and ongoing coastal protection.

Staff from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center are working with partners at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on two oyster reef restoration projects. Funded by a Coastal Incentive Grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, two Savannah State graduate students are building and monitoring oyster reefs. One project focuses on the growth of the oyster habitat reef restoration through the construction of a biodegradable hardscape and the other project focuses on developing methods using Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) to monitor the restored reefs and compare them to natural reefs.

Three phases of restoration have allowed the combination of monitoring and cultivating oyster growth. The goal of this data is to reveal the ongoing importance of reef restoration and promote effective techniques for restoring habitats.

Growing Oyster Populations Using Natural Shell and the Oyster Catcher Material

To grow oyster populations under the Coastal Incentive Grant, NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center and Savannah State University students worked with our team to construct biodegradable hardscapes for oyster reef habitats. This material was coined “Oyster Catcher” by The Sandbar Oyster Company. It is a man-made structure that helps support the growth of oysters. Results are promising because the biodegradable hardscapes showed higher average oyster density and rugosity (a measure of surface complexity) than natural or shell bag reefs but a slightly lower catch per unit effort and diversity than natural reefs.