GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - At the pier behind the parking garage at the Port of Gulfport, the Department of Marine Resources is growing baby oysters.
They're doing so by adding eight million or more oyster larvae to large tanks filled with oyster shells. After bringing life to them in a controlled environment, the oysters will be transported to public reefs with restoration.
"This is a great start. Obviously, we wanted something we can manage. We think the capacity we have here is something we can carry on through this year with the idea the footprint of this would grow much larger," said Jamie Miller, DMR executive director.
Jason Rider is helping oversee the operation, ensuring the millions of larvae have ideal conditions to become baby oysters.
"We like to keep the water clean. We do filter the water coming into the tanks. We like the salinity to be higher than 10 parts per thousand. Once they enter the tank, we do like to make it as easy as possible for the oyster larvae to set on the shells," Rider explained.
Once the larvae attach to the shells, they'll spend another 10 days growing in the tanks. After that, the baby oysters are put onto the transport boat and taken to the reefs in Pass Christian. With a little luck, they'll turn into a harvest size oyster in 18 to 24 months.
It was exactly two years ago the governor's oyster council released its final report on how best to improve the struggling oyster industry.
"It's great we checked another box. This is one of the suggestions that was part of that council's recommendations. We've come a long way," said Dr. Kelly Lucas, who heads the aquaculture program at USM.
The current operation at the port pier can restore about 50 acres of oyster reefs. The plan is to increase capacity, raising that restoration number to several hundred acres of oyster reef.
Another partner in the project is the Department of Rehabilitative Services. A program called "Ability Works" allows disabled workers to build the metal cages, which are used to raise the oysters.