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Oysters to be restored to St. Joe reef

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Oysters are washed off a barge by high pressure water hose in Biloxi Bay, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Oysters are being moved out of harm's way from the freshwater intrusion created by the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Oysters are washed off a barge by high pressure water hose in Biloxi Bay, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016. Oysters are being moved out of harm's way from the freshwater intrusion created by the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

Oysters will soon be returning to St. Joe reef after about 40,000 sacks were relocated to reefs in Pass Christian and Biloxi Bay because of the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening.

St. Joe reef is in the western-most part of the Mississippi Sound, north of the barrier islands, and close to where large amounts of fresh water from the Mississippi River was released.

The state Department of Marine Resources has applied for a permit under the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act.

This is the first step in a long term restoration project that will be implemented over 10 years. The permit request says about 3,500 acres of almost 24,000 acres of reefs will be cultivated.

"The permit will allow us to do this on St. Joe reef," said Melissa Scallan, DMR public affairs director.

Scallan said the restoration will involve cultch planting.

"Cultch planting is a process where limestone or fresh concrete or oyster shells is applied to the reef and then the spat attaches itself to to the clutch on the reef," she said. "Oyster growth goes from spat to seed to sack and they must be at least three inches long before they can be harvested or sacked. Spat basically means 'baby oyster.'"

She said the materials for the cultch planting will be sent out for bids. The cost of the project will be determined by the bid.

No immediate start date has been set for the project, Scallan said, but it is expected to begin soon.

"This is the best time to start oyster cultivation," she said. "Once it is applied, and because of the conditions of the Gulf, it will take between 18-24 months before the oysters will be mature enough for harvesting."

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