The Olympia oyster, the West Coast’s only native oyster, was once prevalent in bays and estuaries throughout California, including in Long Beach’s Alamitos Bay, where beds spanned a quarter of a mile.
But by the mid-1900s, the population was nearly extinct after years of pollution, over-harvesting and habitat destruction.
Now, a new project at the Jack Dunster Marine Reserve in Alamitos Bay will work to restore oyster beds while studying their environmental impact.
The project, a partnership with the nonprofit group Orange County Coastkeeper and Cal State Long Beach, builds on a previous effort to restore oyster beds in Alamitos Bay that ended in 2015.
Under that project, Coastkeeper built a roughly 600-square-foot oyster bed in the marine reserve with help from volunteers who “gardened oysters” by hanging strings of shells off private and public docks.
While the project was a success, it ended when the grant funding dried up and the oysters’ numbers dwindled once again due to stormwater sediment, erosion and nearby dredging, according to city documents.
Coastkeeper Marine Restoration Director Katie Nichols said the new study will explore ways to build a sustainable oyster bed. While similar efforts have been successful in Newport Bay in Orange County, oysters haven’t been as sustainable in Long Beach, she said.
“We’re still figuring out what it takes to maintain a healthy oyster bed,” she said.
The project, funded through a $30,000 grant, kicks off in January and will run through December 2020 with one two-year renewal option.
Nichols oysters are vital for a healthy ecosystem.
“They’re really important for stabilizing the sendiment and building a foundation for lots of other creatures,” she said.
They’re also incredible filters for bacteria and pollution. One adult oyster is capable of pumping and straining up to two gallons of water an hour.
Here’s a time-lapsed video of oysters filtering water in Chesapeake Bay.
Coastkeeper will once again partner with the community and is looking for volunteers this spring who will participate in “oyster gardening.”
For more information contact Coastkeeper.
Once they take root, the oyster beds will be able to be viewed from floating docks in the Dunster marine reserve adjacent to the Pete Archer Rowing Center.