OYSTER BAY, Fla. (WTXL) — Out on the open water, Deborah Keller is driving her boat into another day of work.
She's the owner and founder of Oystermom.
"If you would have asked me seven years ago if I was going to be an oyster farmer I would have looked at you like what," Keller said. "I'm taking care of these babies. You know, they are animals, I need to tend to them, so it seemed like the right name for me."
With a small team, Debra spends most days harvesting the perfect oyster from her water column of about 150 cages.
"Native American Indians were doing oyster aquaculture in this area," Keller said. "Oyster aquaculture has been prevalent throughout the world, just not here in Florida because we had the wild population until it collapsed."
This changed in 2015 when the Wakulla Environmental Institute brought Debra on their advisory board to help bring the species back.
"That was my passion," Keller said. "Let's see how fast we can get oysters back into this water, create jobs, boost the economy and do this good thing for the environment."
She said it's important to have oysters back in the bay because they're environmental engineers, who keep the water clean and clear for underwater grasses and other aquatic life.
"Oysters are reproduced in a hatchery, and I purchase them at about 6 millimeters in size," Keller said.
She said it takes her about a year until an oyster is ready to be harvested, but she can collect anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 a week.
"We will bring those cages up on the side of the boat," Keller said. "Then, we'll put them into the hopper of the tumbler and tumble them. Then, sort them by size, rebag them at one-quarter full because we want to make sure our densities stay low, then we put them back on the water."
She sells her oysters at farmer's markets and restaurants in the big bend.
Turning a temporary project into her new passion and career.
"It's so neat to see people thoroughly enjoy something that you raised,"