October 25, 2013

LSU Biological Engineering alumnus Tyler Ortego, an advocate for alternative reefs, is using his engineering skills to restore oyster reefs across the Gulf Coast.

Why did you choose LSU?

I don’t think I ever really considered being anything other than an LSU Tiger. Must be good parenting.

Why did you choose engineering?

I’ve always been interested in science and building things.

I originally started LSU in Animal Science on the pre-veterinary track, but I think the analytical component, combined with the possibility of using power tools attracted me to engineering.

Why environmental engineering?

I didn’t have any clear sense of direction until my senior year. I originally switched to Biological Engineering simply because I didn’t want to lose my biology credits. As I interacted with older students, I began to see the realty of Louisiana’s coastal struggle. I’ve always been in love with the coast; its culture and seafood. I figured working in (environmental engineering) would put me out on a boat in the environment I enjoy so much.

Why oyster reefs?

I love oysters. I could eat them three meals a day, every day of the week. My senior year, I ended up helping Matt Campbell with his graduate research on oyster reef shoreline protection. We quickly became close friends, and the rest is history.

The technology behind the OysterBreak™ :

Our initial challenge was to use oyster reefs to create living breakwaters. After much iteration, we settled on the concept of using a modular concrete armor unit, which would provide shoreline protection, as well as scaffolding for a 3D oyster reef. We call it the OysterBreak™ .

Oysters are broadcast breeders, meaning each oyster releases millions of gametes into the water column. These gametes unite to create free swimming larvae, which float around until it’s time to find something to which to attach. The OysterBreak™ takes advantage of the oysters’ broadcast breeding and heavy shell building to recruit oysters into a living reef. Coastal engineering principles govern the size and arrangement of the OysterBreak™ armor units. We also develop a type of concrete which we call OysterKrete® that seems to kick-start the reef building process.

Getting Ora Technologies Started:

The first “real project” we built was a small reef in Vermillion Bay for the Nature Conservancy. However, long before then, we were working with Dr. John Foret at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to get funding from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act for a demo project at the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge in eastern Cameron parish.

Wayfarer Environmental Technologies, the company that holds the exclusive license to market the OysterBreak™ in the United States produced and shipped more than 1200 OysterBreak™ rings, each weighing more than a ton, for the demo project.

We finished construction on the project in February 2012. As of January 2013, the OysterBreak™ was almost completely, covered in quarter-sized oysters, and there is highly visible sediment accretion in the lee.

What are your next plans?

At this point, we are looking at any projects with a shoreline protection component. Sites with shallow access or pour foundations make the OysterBreak particularly attractive. There is also a growing movement for “living shoreline” projects. The OysterBreak provides a truly “living shoreline” in a way that is consistent with coastal engineering principles.

We are currently looking at near-term OysterBreak™ projects in four parishes. We also have leads in Texas, Miss., and Ala.

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Article written by Laura Stuart, coordinator, External Relations. For more information contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706.



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