Oysters start out as free floating larvae called “spat”. These spat float around in the water column looking for somewhere hard to settle on using a rudimentary eyespot. Once the oyster larva settles onto a hard substrate it begins to grow, however, if the oyster spat does not find a hard surface to settle on, it perishes.
Oysters have the ability to land on anything hard; dock pilings, concrete sea walls, tree trunks...but they prefer to land on other oysters as it is a good indicator that there is enough food and protection in the surrounding habitat to create a successful oyster reef.
Oyster beds provide habitat, food, and protection for a numerous species of animals that live in and around them, making them an important keystone species in Florida’s thriving marine ecosystem. Oysters are also known as ecosystem engineers because of their ability to create or significantly modify the surrounding habitat. Their interconnected reefs help to dissipate wave energy, which in turn reduces erosion along the shoreline.
As filter feeders, oysters help to remove particulate matter from the surrounding water and help to improve overall water quality. A single oyster can filter anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons of water a day!
However, oyster populations in Florida are quickly declining due to over harvesting, brown tide events, rising sea levels, and careless boaters. Globally over 85% of shellfish reefs are gone, and locally our oyster reefs are declining rapidly. By recycling oyster shell from local restaurants, we can help to create new oyster reefs to insure their success for years to come.