Galveston Bay Foundation’s (GBF) artificial oyster reef

In an effort to preserve the salty Sweetwater Lake ecosystem in Galveston, the coastal crew extended the Galveston Bay Foundation’s (GBF) artificial oyster reef by 125 feet. The reef had already been established in length by numerous volunteer groups that worked with GBF, including the evidently superhuman Girl Scouts, fabled to have planted 25 feet of reef per hour.
Comprised entirely of 30-pound bags of oyster shells, the reef is constructed in a triangular prism formation atop 25-foot sections of filter fabric used to stabilize the reef. The project entailed the extensive bagging of the appropriate quantity of shells from a massive pile sourced from restaurants around the area with oysters on their menus. The bags are then heaved into buoyant tubs and floated two footballs fields down the shoreline to the new reef site, where they are lain in a 4-2-1 cross-sectional configuration, as instructed by GBF. Whether building reef or filling bags, the week required a lot more work and heavy lifting than we had anticipated. Luckily, we learned an effective stretch for our trapezius muscles from our field coordinator, Rich Wehmeyer, who has had hulkish traps since the second grade.
This artificial reef beside the shore provides a new habitat for oysters (a keystone species which themselves create habitat), shrimp, and crabs, among others, which subsequently support the rest of the food web, as evidenced by the heavy splashing noticed on the last day during a lunch break spent relaxing on the reef. Free-swimming oyster larvae require surfaces to attach to in order to mature and tend to prefer adhering to other oyster shells, making the reef the perfect structure to promote and sustain oyster population growth, which in turn increases the effective area for even more wildlife. The reef also serves as a wave break, dampening the power of the waves before they reach the shore so as to mitigate erosion and preserve the marshlands. The difference between the waves on the lake side of the reef and the ripples on the shore side was instantly gratifying and certainly motivated me throughout the day.
For much of the week, our steady pace was oddly consistently interrupted by lightning storms, which one day included the awe-inspiring but terrifying beginnings of a tornado, whose two twisting, funneled ends mingled in a playful dance, fortunately never able to seduce each other into a dangerous marriage. Down a couple members each day and with crew leader Derek still away caring for newborn Derek II, we can’t help but imagine what Girl-Scout-esque accomplishments we might have approached at full capacity.
Another slight distraction, albeit a welcome one, came with Abe Moore, a one-man film crew from Texas Parks and Wildlife, who recorded every aspect of the work we were doing on the reef for a small segment in an episode that will feature GBF’s oyster reef project on PBS. To our dismay, the show will air in one year: too long for a non-native species like myself to witness on live TV, but it should at least be available online. Abe brought an excellent opportunity for TXCC members to publicly advertise the perks of this Americorps-partnered program as well as conservation work in general. He also provided us with a thorough look into an alternative opportunity for members interested in manifesting any multimedia inclinations they may have within the field of conservation.
Despite not having reached our overly ambitious goal of 250 feet — much less 25 feet per hour, the coastal crew looks forward to working with GBF next week and hopes for future chance to finish the work they started in Sweetwater.
Michael Lee – Coastal Restoration Crew
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Armand Bayou 4/27/17

April storms, fresh wildflowers, and imminent blue skies greeted us the few days we were at Armand Bayou. Armand bayou provides our crew with many projects and educational opportunities for it is one of the largest natural spaces inside an urban area in our country. Our PT was directly across an extremely active Rookery, where we were able to witness juvenile Great Blue Herons build their wing muscles by flapping them while poached on the structure. White Egrets would skim right over our heads and Roseate Pink Spoonbills sat deep in the rookery protecting their young. Deer would scatter around us, hopping from one spot to the next, and we even got to sneak a peek at an indigo bunting

The project was classic conservation work. We were helping close out an area where we previously fell large diameter sweet gum trees. That mostly consisted of chopping up the larger pieces of lumber into smaller ones which we would then transport into a nearby forest. This was to allow a large tractor with a batwing brush cutter to safely mow over the prarrie without destroying the equipment.

While half the crew was working on that the others with helping me fell medium sized tallow trees as well as trim the larger trees canopies to prevent them from creeping into the road. This was one of the projects where sensitivity to rare and even endangered wildlife was a key priority. The team clearing road corridor was right near the active rookery and many birds don’t like loud noises, especially blaring chainsaws. So during our breaks we would pause, gaze at the home of 100’s of birds and hopefully wait for something rare to fly over us.

Other than  our standard work day, we did get to experience some of the common challenges we come across performing conservation work. And when you work in a coastal tall grass prairie you realize that if you step off one side of the main road you will sink, sink deep, and sink even deeper. Well, one of the UTV’s didn’t make it back from the worksite. It was buried deep, in a slick-muddy pile of gunk that was so soft that you leg could sink all the way to your knee, a fellow crew member, and my bigfoot sized field coordinator tried to push it out of the mud, and with my bosses strength we could pretty much lift the thing out of the mud, but because the mud was so soft, the frame was underneath the terrain thus preventing all the tires from spinning.

At that point we were in a large pickle and all hands on deck were required. The team that was out in the prarrie was called in to help get us unstuck. The whole team was helping now. Three on the front, two on each side, and the lightest member was driving. We all worked together and got the machine out of its sticky situation. Even though much of our afternoon was sacrificed in order to help a machine, we got to experience some of the challenges in working around sensitive habitats. Getting stuck is like a right of passage for conservation work. And the more experience you have getting unstuck the easier life will be for you in the future.

 

Coastal Crew

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