SCCF, FGCU Studying Impact on Oyster Reef Restoration

provided to Santiva Chronicle

Florida Gulf Coast University and Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation researchers took their first cruise on June 19 for a new collaborative project to investigate how high flows from the Caloosahatchee may have an adverse impact on oyster reef restoration.

The research cruises, of which there will be 10, are focused on collecting larvae from sites in San Carlos Bay, Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. Initial findings suggest the larvae are transported out to the Gulf of Mexico during high flows and never allowed the opportunity to settle on existing reefs.

It is estimated oyster reefs are among the most imperiled marine habitats on earth, with losses between 80 to 90 percent. Locally, oyster reefs were destroyed during the construction of McGregor Boulevard. And the remaining reefs have been highly degraded by the extreme high flows and drought conditions that exacerbate imbalances in river flows from the Caloosahatchee estuary.

Researchers on the cruises will collect samples to enumerate bivalve larvae and quantify the number of oyster spat settling on shell strings. The research will provide new information to guide future restoration and help with understanding the impacts of high flow events.

Planning for this summer’s research collaboration on bivalve larval transport began in February. The project extends previous work from a Master’s of Science thesis project by Bass Dye and advised by Felix Jose, Ph.D., from FGCU.

The thesis focused on the complex currents in San Carlos Bay and the pathways developed a predictive model for the transport of free-swimming larvae. SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D., served on the committee for the master’s thesis, which was completed in 2018.

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