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Oyster 'gardening' restores reefs after hurricane

In Texas, neighbors experiment with oyster gardening to help rebuild reefs damaged by Hurricane Ike.

Marvin Peyton, left, and Greg Tate volunteer in a project called "oyster gardening" where mesh bags full of oyster shells are hung off their fishing piers, in San Leon, Texas. Oysters and other wildlife are then able to grow and be used to help reseed the bay.

Michael Paulson /Houston Chronicle/AP

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Below the choppy gray waters of a small peninsula jutting into Galveston Bay, 200 mesh bags dangle, filled with shucked oyster shells and a whole lot of hope.

Six families, who each have bay-front homes with long wooden-plank piers, stuffed the bags with oyster shells. They then tied the bags to the newly rebuilt fishing piers and dropped them into the water.

These families are experimenting with "oyster gardening" — using old shells to provide the hard surface upon which oyster larvae can attach and grow.

This is one of several creative projects, paid for by federal and state grants, under way to restore a small portion of the 8,000 acres of oyster reefs killed when Hurricane Ike buried them in sediment a year ago.

Oysters are important to the Texas economy as a food and are also efficient filters that remove contaminants from the water as they feed. A single oyster filters 50 gallons a day.

The San Leon project has promoted a kind of communal bonding, as these neighbors try to reclaim the life they knew before Ike submerged their peninsula under several feet of water.

When Edwina and Marvin Peyton learned about oyster gardening from a Texas Parks and Wildlife e-mail, they were thrilled. They were just about finished restoring their home and 100-foot pier, and now there might actually be something they could contribute to the bay's restoration.

"It's been very educational," said Mr. Peyton, as he pulled a mesh bag onto his pier to examine it. "I've had to learn about the sex life of oysters. Something I hadn't taken into consideration before."

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