‘Living docks’ seen as boost to survival of lagoon’s wildlife

More than 30 volunteers braved a few territorial crabs and a couple bluntnose stingrays last week to install 96 Living Dock Modules on the pilings of the Beach Woods community pier in Melbourne Beach.

Each Living Dock Module (LDM) has 50 oyster shells mounted to it – and free-floating oyster larvae in the lagoon are drawn to them.

Known as the selfless shellfish, just one oyster can filter and clean 50 gallons of water every day. With 96 modules, these mats will be able to clean up to 240,000 gallons per day – or 84 million gallons per year.

Volunteers worked under the guidance of Florida Tech’s Dr. Kelli Hunsucker and Dr. Robert Weaver of the Indian River Research Institute. Together, they run the Living Docks program and work with local community groups like Beach Woods to create Living Docks.

“The lagoon once had a healthy population of oysters and clams which filtered the water, but these were over harvested several decades ago. Thus, our natural filtration was removed,” Hunsucker said. “The Living Dock program is our approach to help the lagoon by repopulating certain areas of the lagoon with oysters and other animals that can filter water.”

Volunteers, including Beach Woods resident Bob Hinckley, who helped organize the event, spent about two hours attaching the mats. “My involvement came from paddle boarding on the lagoon and observing the innocent and beautiful wildlife; dolphins, manatees, pelicans, sea turtles among many others, who are trying to survive in the polluted waters,” Hinckley said. “It broke my heart to see their struggle and that is when I decided to try to mobilize our community to help them.”

Last December, Hunsucker and Weaver gave a presentation to Beach Woods residents, and in January, the board of directors approved $2,400 to fund 96 LDMs for the project, at a cost of $25 each.

The oysters are gathered from local restaurants, dried out, and taken back to Florida Tech, where each one has a hole drilled in it. In March, 80 volunteers from Beach Woods assembled the modules, and on installation day, Hinckley said the conditions were perfect with sunny skies, comfortable water temperature, and a low wind.

But there were a couple minor inconveniences. “Challenging our efforts were good-sized crabs, who do not want to give up their favored perches on the pilings,” Hinckley said.

“We were also visited by a squadron of brown sting rays who quickly departed after a banshee scream from one of our volunteers.”

In a few weeks young oysters will be visible on the modules, and by the end of summer they should reach maturity.

Hinckley plans to monitor their progress and is planning other events in support of the lagoon’s health.

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