Oyster cultches respond to local’s invention

May 20th, 2013 | By | Category: News

Louisiana is faced with a problem almost no other place on the planet has— severe COASTAL EROSION.

St. Bernard Parish is no stranger to this problem. As the great Mississippi River’s natural flooding was contained by a levee system, the coastal wetlands carved up by the pursuit of oil and gas and the infamous MRGO was dug seem to be melting away rapidly. Other causes— subsidence and sea level rise— have contributed as well. Thousands upon thousands of acres of land have gone underwater and centuries old cypress swamps and oak tree laden chenieres have been destroyed. The large chain of barrier reefs the Chandeleur Islands formed thousands of years ago have rapidly disappeared since the 1980’s, diminishing near shore protection. Thus the shoreline of eastern St. Bernard has been under severe wave action erosion. The coastal wetlands are the natural protection from the storm surges of hurricanes. The question becomes what do we do to protect and build our shoreline from this loss.

New young oysters, one-year-old, 2-3 inches. Eventually the reef block will be completely covered with multi-generations of oysters, shedding oysters and shell. Photo by Jimmy Delery

New young oysters, one-year-old, 2-3 inches. Eventually the reef block will be completely
covered with multi-generations of oysters, shedding oysters and shell.
Photo by Jimmy Delery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
As a young man growing up in New Orleans, Sherwood Gagliano developed a fascination for the Mississippi River. From his home in the Carrollton area, he could see the great might the river had as a source of freshwater and a land builder. Woody, as his friends call him, pursed his academic education and ended up teaching at LSU. His talent to understand the coast has earned him a reputation as the father of modern coastal science. His approach engages natural processes and manmade assistance when needed. Woody’s role as a scientist before and after Katrina was invaluable.

 

The shoreline is unprotected and prone to heavy wave action, vegetation loss, and no shell armoring. Photos by Jimmy Delery

The shoreline is unprotected and prone to heavy wave action, vegetation loss,
and no shell armoring. Photos by Jimmy Delery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defending the shorelines from wave action and erosion was the challenge Woody was to ponder. The question of how to mimic a natural barrier oyster protection system stirred. Having experimented along with his young son with some oyster spat, which is the young larval stage oyster, the design began. Oyster cultch beds, manmade oyster reefs with a standard height, were the answer. After much thought and many designs, the oyster reef system was ready to go.

 

Here is a side view of the oyster reef cages’ external spat adhesion. Initially the cage is filled with oyster shells recycled from restaurant consumption. This is the surface for spat adhesion and new growth.

Here is a side view of the oyster reef cages’ external
spat adhesion. Initially the cage is filled with oyster
shells recycled from restaurant consumption. This is
the surface for spat adhesion and new growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It would take time to get the first demo set out into the Louisiana coast in Lafourche Parish. An initial system was established along a western barrier island. Success was evident. Through a private grant the system would be placed along a shoreline in eastern St. Bernard, near Breton Sound shore. The project was completed in the summer of 2012 just before Hurricane Isaac. It would take an oyster spawning season in order for the spat to adhere to the suspended dead oyster shells contained in the triangular reef block. Employing nature was a critical factor. The oysters would not only help to protect from wave action but would also help to filter the water depositing nutrients and shells on the shoreline, helping to stabilize it.

 

On May 7, we traveled to the new reefs. The tide was a bit lower because of the northern front, exposing the top of the new reef line. We were surprised with the results of one year of growth, oysters attached all over the reef blocks. Nature had taken her role, setting the stage for the future. It was good as well to observe the wave energy attenuation that the system was accomplishing. This shoreline now has a positive potential to endure the wave action and continue a course of sustainability. The pocket of water behind the reef will perform as a habitat for smaller fish, small sea life and aquatic vegetation. Mission accomplished. A big thanks goes to a great inventor Woody Gagliano, a person who has always cared about the very land we live and survive by. Next year, we just need to remember to bring an oyster knife, a little cocktail sauce, and the fishing poles.

 

 

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