Living Shoreline Restoration in the Mission-Aransas Estuary

St. Charles Bay, located within the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, has experienced high erosion rates and shoreline loss over the past few decades (2 acres in 20 years; Kendal Keyes, personal communication). As these shorelines recede, critical habitats (including saltmarshes, seagrasses, and coastal prairies) are lost, resulting in the loss of foraging, refuge, and nesting habitat to many key Species of Greatest Conservation Need as identified in the Texas Conservation Action Plan. The area is also adjacent to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is utilized by overwintering whooping cranes (Grus americana) to forage on blue crabs (Hunt and Slack 1989) and has been federally designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as whooping crane critical habitat.

To mitigate shoreline erosion and habitat loss in St. Charles Bay, HRI Chair for Coastal Conservation and Restoration Dr. Jennifer Pollack will lead a team in the construction of oyster breakwater living shoreline. The project will restore approximately 4,800 square yards of shallow oyster reef habitat along the shoreline in the Mission-Aransas Estuary. In addition to reducing wave energies along the shoreline, additional benefits of the project include habitat creation for oysters, fishes, and crustaceans, as well as support for recreational fishing.

Dr. Pollack’s team will deploy oyster shells into St. Charles Bay at approximately 1.25-meter depth using barges and excavators to create seven linear reef mounds of dimensions 30 yards long by 10 yards wide by 0.3 yard high. The footprint of the restored reef complex will include a 5-meter buffer on either side of the created shell mounds that has been previously demonstrated to receive habitat benefits from restoration activities. The living shoreline restoration will be monitored quarterly after construction to assess environmental conditions and development of the restored oyster population.