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Volunteers come out to Perico Preserve to help oyster project

MANATEE – For some families, a lesson on the importance on sustaining healthy oyster beds for the coastal environment was a hands-on lesson.

Oyster Extravaganza brought out 33 volunteers, including adults and children, to Perico Preserve on Saturday to help build oyster mats — in an effort to rebuild oyster beds.

“These are going to be basically carpets of oysters that were built all by volunteers, and we will place them out in the bay and in the surrounding areas to grow new oyster beds,” said Aedan Stockdale, education program manager for the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department.

A few oyster bags (mesh bags filled with oyster shells) and vertical oyster gardens (shells strung on a rope) also were built by volunteers. The bags are used to build beds along shorelines, and the vertical gardens are hung from docks or boat ramps.

Saturday’s project was part of the Gulf Oyster Recycling and Renewal Program — a pilot program in which oyster shells from the Chiles Group restaurants — Sandbar, Beach House and Mar Vista — are going to be recycled and later used to help rebuild the estuary around Perico Preserve.

On Saturday, the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department teamed up with community partners that included the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Manatee County extension, the Chiles Group, the Gulf Shellfish Institute, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and START, Solutions To Avoid Red Tide, a nonprofit organization founded in Longboat Key.