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Oyster Sampling and Modeling Will Inform Reef Restoration

May 14, 2024
Oysters with two people by a boat in the background

Continuing a project that began in 2020, the SCCF Marine Laboratory is teaming up with scientists and students at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) to study oyster settlement and abundance in the Caloosahatchee.

To reproduce, oysters spawn tiny larvae that move through the water and settle on a surface, where they grow. This three-year, EPA-funded study includes sampling 10 sites every two weeks to measure the amount of oyster larvae and spat (juvenile) settlement. They do this through measuring growth on shell strings that are deployed during each sampling trip, as well as by taking water samples that are analyzed for oyster larvae at FGCU.

“Knowing which sites have the best oyster settlement and larval abundance can help us prioritize the best sites for restoration,” said SCCF Marine Laboratory Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D.

During year three of the study, SCCF will also coordinate oyster reef restoration activities, Milbrandt said. This involves soliciting a bid from a marine contractor to deliver fossil shell to a permitted restoration site. The site will be chosen based on the outcomes of larval transport and oyster life history models being led by the University of South Florida and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

“We expect to fine tune our understanding of larval transport and spat settlement in the estuary and build a healthy oyster reef where currently there is a severely degraded reef,” Milbrandt said.

SCCF recently attended a meeting of the SFWMD Governing Board to voice support for the coalescing sampling and modeling projects that will help our oyster reef restoration efforts in the Caloosahatchee Estuary and beyond. 

“While attention is often paid to water storage and treatment projects surrounding Lake Okeechobee, it’s important that we build resilience within the system as well,” said Environmental Policy Director Matt DePaolis. “Through successful oyster restoration, we can capitalize on the ecosystem services granted to us from healthy oyster reefs including storm protection, wildlife habitat, and water filtration.” 

Learn more about oysters and SCCF’s research >>


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