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Oyster Corps sets sights on restoring oyster habitat across the Panhandle

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 9:37 PM CDT
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EASTPOINT, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Apalachicola, along with the majority of Franklin County, was built on seafood.

This rings especially true for the famed Apalachicola Bay oyster.

When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to close the Apalachicola Bay to oyster harvesting in July 2020, the identity of the community was brought into question. Now, there is a group looking to bring oysters back.

The Franklin’s Promise Coalition has launched the Oyster Corps, an organization dedicated to teaching young people about everything from oyster habitat restoration to coastal resilience.

“(We’re doing this) to make sure our young people were in the leading edge as far as certifications,” said Joe Taylor, executive director of the Franklin’s Promise Coalition. “Education, hands-on experience, so that hopefully they’ll be able to get a great job or maybe even start their own company in coastal restoration as they go through our program.”

The program had its pre-pilot launch in Santa Rosa County, with the pilot program getting underway in Franklin County. The organization has plans to spread across the Panhandle this year.

“I think the stimulus for us having this discussion is we were fortunate to have received a grant award,” Taylor said. “In partnership with the Water Management District and the National Estuarine Research Reserve, which will really allow us to bring the Oyster Corps pilot program to Franklin, Gulf and Bay counties.”

The Corps is made up of youth aged 17 to 25, and although many don’t have their career plans figured out yet, the training they get in the world of conservation will make them valuable assets to the community.

“I’m not exactly sure exactly what I want to do,” said Elijah James Mathis, a new member of the Oyster Corps. “But I definitely want to go into conservation. Maybe become a crew leader and help other young folks and guide other young folks into doing what we’re doing.”

The Oyster Corps hopes to begin work in Gulf and Bay counties in September.

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