Over the last decades, Mobile Bay has seen significant loss of oyster reefs, seagrass beds and coastal marsh habitats through dredge-and-fill activities, seawalls and jetties, erosion, storm events and other causes, thus offering one of the largest potential areas for outright restoration, replacement and enhancement of these lost habitats on the Northern Gulf Coast.
Replacement or restoration of the oyster reef, seagrass bed and coastal marsh habitats has long-term benefits in helping to improve on-going problems in Mobile Bay, from stormwater to the “free-floating bottom sediment” issue to shoreline erosion. While the marsh component is critical to rebuilding habitat for quick fish stock recovery, it will also aid in stormwater remediation, including nitrogen capture. This restoration will also make the coastline more resilient to future impacts from hurricanes, oil spills or climate change.
The animal most responsible for maintaining the integrity of the Gulf’s estuaries is the oyster, which occurs in great abundance in the Gulf’s shallow coastal waters. By gluing themselves to each other’s shells, they create vertical reefs — much like coral reefs — that literally hold the coastal ecosystem together. Oyster reefs form a living breakwater that protects the soft marsh shorelines from erosion and storm damage. They also serve as the condominiums of the sea, providing intricate habitats and hiding places for the numerous larval and juvenile finfish and shellfish that are the foundation of the Gulf food web. Studies show that the commercial value of the Gulf’s oysters (more than $60 million dollars per year, about 67 percent of the nation’s total) is easily surpassed by the commercial value of the fish that use these reefs.