Students in the University of North Florida’s Coastal and Marine Biology Program are working on a living shoreline restoration project with the St. Mary’s Riverkeeper to help rebuild oyster reefs on the Amelia River’s shoreline, near Old Town Fernandina.
The Old Town Fernandina Historic District on the northern tip of Amelia Island has been occupied by Europeans since the 17th century and is the original site of the “Town of Fernandina,” named in honor of King Ferdinand VII of Spain, according to the National Park Service. It’s just north of present-day Fernandina Beach, off North 14th Street.
Biology Professor Kelly Smith and undergraduate biology students will work in collaboration with the Riverkeeper and the northeast coast resilience coordinator of the Fish and Wildlife Commission to deploy crab traps to artificially rebuild the oyster reefs.
Students will then conduct research at the site to learn how to preserve the oyster beds in the future.
The end goal of this project is to create a functioning oyster reef along the Old Town Fernandina waterfront on the Amelia River.
“It's an area that is vulnerable to sea level rise and increasingly powerful storms,” explained St. Mary’s Riverkeeper Anna Laws. “This is also an area where we can see that there is naturally a lot of oysters in the area, but they don't have anything currently to attach to. So we know that this would be a good target spot for oyster restoration.”
Oyster reefs are an example of living shorelines, which are made of natural materials that improve water quality, provide habitat, increase biodiversity, promote recreation and offer flood and erosion protection.
“Living shorelines, in general, are just a much more resilient form of habitat protection and shoreline protection than what we call hardened shorelines, which would be manmade materials like rocks or bulwarks or something like that,” Laws said.
Smith and UNF students started the project back in 2019 to test and see if the Old Town Fernandina waterfront would be a good site for an oyster reef.