Florida’s aquaculture industry has also been evolving in an innovative way toward the culture of species that are never intended to be eaten, at least by people.

The term is called restoration aquaculture, and it entails cultivating marine plants and animals like coral, sponges, oysters and marsh grasses that will one day be transplanted to the wild to increase declining populations and improve the health of coastal ecosystems.

restoration aquaculture graphicUF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant lead restoration aquaculture projects around the state.

Sponge Restoration

In the Florida Keys, researchers at the University of Florida and Old Dominion University and UF/IFAS Florida Sea Grant extension faculty, along with more than 40 volunteers from around the world have joined together for an ecosystem intervention. Shelly Krueger, UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant agent in Monroe County, said transplanting sponge cuttings is a way to speed up nature so the ecosystem doesn’t reach a point of no return.

Bay Scallop Restoration

Scalloping and the bay scallops themselves represent a beloved symbol of summertime leisure for many Floridians. Entire families enjoy the “underwater Easter egg hunt,” collecting scallops in the healthy seagrass meadows of Florida’s Nature Coast and Big Bend areas. The bay scallop fishery is also an important economic engine for the rural counties where it is located.Florida waters once supported both commercial and recreational bay scallop fisheries statewide. Unfortunately, populations of this delectable bivalve have declined over the years for several reasons. Much of the work Florida Sea Grant does could benefit bay scallops by improving the coastal environment.

Florida Sea Grant agents and researchers partner with state agencies and other groups to educate the public, boost scallop populations and develop tools to improve bay scallop restoration aquaculture.

One way UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant researchers are working to boost scallop populations is by collecting adult scallops from waters with healthy populations and then spawning them at hatcheries for restoration. Other restoration techniques include releasing hatchery spawned larvae and growing scallops in cages planted in the seagrass.

oyster gardening photoOyster Gardening

One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day, a capacity that UF/IFAS and Florida Sea Grant are using as part of a larger strategy to help restore water quality at imperiled waters in Florida, such as the Indian River Lagoon.

Thousands of residents so far have signed up to turn their backyard docks into garden plots that will raise baby oysters from newly hatched larvae, or seed. When the youngsters grow large enough in 6 to 9 months, they are transplanted into special areas where they can make new oyster reef.

“Oyster gardening helps restore oysters in areas where they were once found and where the water quality is good enough where they can survive,” says Holly Abeels, Florida Sea Grant agent with UF/IFAS Extension in Brevard County, who is a lead on the initiative.

“Hopefully, when they reach adulthood, the gardened oysters will spawn and continue the growth of oyster reefs in the Indian River Lagoon,” she said. “Plus, the restored oyster reefs will provide habitat for oyster larvae to set and be a source for new oysters in the future.”

Faculty and Staff

Holly Abeels
UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agent
Brevard County
Vincent Encomio
UF/IFAS Extension Florida Sea Grant Agent
Martin and St. Lucie Counties