Last week, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Division of Aquaculture announced a new program providing teaching to high school students in Franklin County about oyster aquaculture.
Made possible by an award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) eeBLUE aquaculture literacy mini-grant program, the project will enable students in the Conservation Corps to experience first-hand the opportunities, benefits, and challenges of oyster aquaculture. The Conservation Corps of the Forgotten Coast will host the innovative partnership alongside FDACS Division of Aquaculture, Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Rattlesnake Cove Oyster Company, and the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab.
Through this program, students will gain hands-on training – from growing oyster spat in a hatchery to building cages, planting seed, maintaining a lease, and harvesting a crop of oysters. Oyster hatchery internships will be facilitated by the FSU Coastal and Marine Lab. At the end of the program, students will also share their accomplishments through video, story-telling, social media, and at several special events within the broader Apalachicola community.
“Aquaculture is a crucial part of Florida’s economy and our way of life,” Fried said. “This innovative partnership will help restore oyster populations in the Apalachicola Bay and introduce a new generation of Floridians to the importance of protecting our state’s marine ecosystems.”
“Shellfish aquaculture is growing rapidly in Florida and is an important industry to preserve the cultural heritage of our coastal towns, develop economic engines, and provide ecosystem services to marine environments,” Portia Sapp, the director of the FDACS Division of Aquaculture, said. “This collaborative program is essential to educate, train, and cultivate new industry members that can expand aquaculture. Additionally, it helps amplify their impacts as good stewards of natural resources and educators sharing their experience and knowledge with stakeholders.”
“This is a wonderful opportunity for students in Franklin County to learn about aquaculture. Harvesting wild-caught oysters was once a multi-million-dollar industry in Apalachicola Bay,” said Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve lead partner Anita Grove. “Many people have worked in the industry for generations and have made a good living on the once plentiful oysters. Aquaculture can provide oysters while Apalachicola’s natural oyster beds recover.”
“Our corps members are excited to gain experience with the aquaculture process, learning about how oysters grow, understanding the farming requirements, and being part of a new industry,” said Joe Taylor, Executive Director of Franklin’s Promise Coalition (Conservation Corps of the Forgotten and Emerald Coasts). “They also gain leadership experience by engaging the high school students to work on the farm and learn about the science of aquaculture. It is going to be real STEM learning, hands-on!”