MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - Planting rocks to help grow oysters. That's the basic idea behind a cultch planting project on oyster reefs in the Mississippi Sound.
Big hopper barges that came down the Mississippi River are loaded with the soon to be deployed crushed limestone. It's the first step in the process of dropping tons of crushed limestone onto area oyster reefs.
"There's hopper barges staged out there that hold all of the limestone that they're using. You'll have barges going back and forth to the site all day pretty much as they're deploying. They'll unload a barge, and the next one will be in queue ready to go," said Mississippi Department of Marine Resources marine scientist Charlie Robertson.
Once loaded with rock, the smaller barges head for the reef deployment zone. That's where workers use giant water jet canons to blow the piles of limestone onto the shallow water bottom.
This week's project will cover some 160 acres of reef restoration.
"We're covering pretty much all of our western reefs that are open to the public harvest. From St. Joe, Pass Marianne, Henderson Point, Pass Christian reefs," said DMR marine scientist Andrew Barrett.
The limestone essentially provides a hard surface for baby oysters, or spat, to cling to during the early development stage.
"Spat spawn in the water column. They'll swim around for about three weeks and then settle on the bottoms. So, if they land on this cultch, hopefully they'll attach to the limestone," Barrett explained.
"We're always trying to restore the reefs and think of better ways that we can manage and have more successful and more productive oyster reefs," said Robertson.
It won't take long to see some success on these newly planted reef areas. They could produce a market sized, three-inch oyster in the next 18 to 24 months.
"We'll monitor it as we do every year. We monitor all public reefs through dive and dredge assessments, so these will be part of the annual monitoring that the DMR does," said Robertson.