SAN LEON, Texas (AP) — Crews are putting millions of pounds of Kentucky limestone on the floor of a Texas bay for a 21-acre oyster reef on a private lease.

San Leon-based Prestige Oysters held a blessing ceremony Monday for the Galveston Bay oyster cultch, the Galveston County Daily News reported. The mass of stones, broken shells and grit will form an oyster bed off San Leon, 40 miles southeast of Houston.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 battered the area's oyster reefs and devastated the local oyster industry.

Workers used a crane this week to load boats with nearly 5,000 tons of limestone, which will be spread on the bay floor, said Raz Halili, vice president of Prestige Oysters. The company has also used oyster shells and limestone to create thriving habitats for oysters, he said.

"The first option is always shell, but it's just not a plentiful resource," he said. "But oysters thrive on domestic limestone."

The project is the first new reef on a private lease in the area in about 40 years, Halili said.

The company will likely have to wait two or three years for the site to have mature oysters to harvest for consumers. But the mollusk also has ecological benefits for the body of water, according to Clifford Hillman, owner of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co.

Adult oysters filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, he said.

"Oysters are the best barometer of bay health," Hillman said. "They filter the impurities in the water."

Halili said reefs also create natural barriers for hurricanes and coastal erosion.

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Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com