More volunteers needed to grow oysters in Mobile Bay

More volunteers needed to grow oysters in Mobile Bay
Neil Johnston, Sr. (left) is one of many volunteers who help PJ Waters and his team at the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

The Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program is looking for more volunteers.

Each year from June to November, thousands of baby oysters are grown in oyster gardens hanging from piers around Mobile Bay. PJ Waters, program coordinator and associate extension professor at Auburn University, said the oyster program needs more people willing to volunteer their time and piers.

“Grow oysters with us,” Peters said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Oyster gardening helpful to Mobile Bay from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

More than 940,000 oysters have been raised and later planted in restoration reefs in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound since the program began in 2001. Peters said the oyster gardens improve the water and habitat quality by feeding on phytoplankton and filtering out excess nutrients. Oyster gardening provides an opportunity to participate in ecological restoration by helping improve water quality, create habitat and stabilize shorelines.

“It’s a substantial educational opportunity,” Peters said. “We get school kids involved, we get retirees involved. They know how to eat them, they know where to get them but they don’t know what they do beyond tasting good. It gives us an opportunity to get into the community and talk about what role these oysters play beyond an economic or culinary role.”

Neil Johnston Sr. has volunteered to grow oysters off his pier at Mullet Point for 19 years. He now raises thousands of oysters each year.

“It’s fun,” Johnston said. “To me it’s not work. I look forward to cleaning the cages and see what’s there.”

Johnston said cleaning the cages can be done in one to two hours per week. However, he often takes more time so that neighbors can bring their children to help.

“We constantly have kids over to learn and see,” Johnston said. “If any neighbor has a visitor from out of town, they want to come look at it and help out. They are just amazed at what is going on. It’s just a great program and teaching tool.”

The Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program is a partnership between the volunteers, Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.oystergardening.org or send an email to [email protected].

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