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Pearls of Wisdom: Oyster Restoration Planning, Implementation, and Monitoring in Tampa Bay, Florida
Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are recognized as both an important species and ecosystem engineer in Tampa Bay. However, they have been negatively affected due to continued development and harvest pressures. By the 1970s, live reef extent had declined to an estimated 186-345 acres of potential habitat as a result of commercial harvest, shell mining, and dredging. Recognition of these issues in Tampa Bay resulted in the implementation of a series of oyster restoration projects beginning in the early 2000s by Tampa Bay Watch, Manatee County, and others. Several of the highest-ranked research needs identified in the 2017 update to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan addressed the implementation of long-term monitoring of habitat restoration and mitigation projects. While habitat restoration projects generally have short-term monitoring requirements (e.g., live oyster coverage over 1-2 years), there have only been sporadic longer-term assessments to understand and compare maturation trajectories of restored areas. Therefore, it is essential to improve long-term, data-driven monitoring to inform adaptive management strategies that would benefit future restoration projects.

Multiple partners (including private, local, state, and federal organizations) have implemented systematic monitoring of oyster restoration projects and natural reefs within shallow estuaries, such as Tampa Bay, in coordination with planning and restoration efforts. Sharing of monitoring practices and results will enhance the development of reef restoration plans through improved targeting of locations, elevation, timing, and selection of appropriate materials. This will also allow users to determine the best methods to compare monitoring data from sites with different installation years, construction materials, and hydrodynamic conditions. Examples from Tampa Bay provide a wide palette of options for learning opportunities, including the implementation of a new oyster restoration project at MacDill Air Force Base using Before, After, Control, Impact (BACI) monitoring approaches among a series of well-established restoration projects. GIS and on-the-ground assessments of natural and restored oyster reefs throughout Tampa Bay will assist and improve future planning and restoration efforts.
Large-Scale Management and Restoration