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PSRF receives $40,000 for Liberty Bay oyster habitat

POULSBO — The Puget Sound Restoration Fund will continue its efforts to expand the habitat footprint for Olympia oysters in Liberty Bay with a $40,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The program could proceed near Scandia as early as June, and is an extension of the organization’s attempt to restore and enhance native oyster habitat by creating an environment in which oysters can begin to initiate their own colonies, said PSRF executive director Betsy Peabody. NOAA approved it as part of its national Habitat Restoration Program.

Peabody said the group has been working to re-establish oysters in the area since 2005.

“We’ve been working on some tidelands that are owned by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife,” she said. “We’re working in an area where, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, about 10 acres were suitable.”

The PSRF laid a layer of oyster shells to begin re-colonizing a third of an acre in 2005, half an acre in 2006 and two acres in 2007. This summer Peabody expects five acres to be done.

The area, which historically had a large Olympic oyster population, is still rich with larvae, but has muddied over the years, leaving nothing hard on which oysters can re-colonize. Development and historic logging contributed to the softening, she said.

“There’s no longer a vast bed of oysters on which the larvae can set, so we’re giving them that structure so they can recolonize that historic area,” she said.

Peabody said nutrients have come into the bay from different sources, fueling algae growth and settling as silt.

“If you reestablish a healthy bed of oysters, then they’re going to be helping to remove nutrients from that part of Liberty Bay,” she said. “They’re cleansing the water, improving light penetration.”

The project itself will be off-limits to public harvest, but the increase in native oyster habitat should provide a continual seed source for other nearby areas, where public harvest could be established.

Peabody said the PSRF partners with The Nature Conservancy, as well as the Suquamish Tribe, United States Navy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the effort of restoring the natural process. For more information, visit the PSRF site at www.restorationfund.org and the NOAA site at www.noaa.gov.

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