Vital Oyster Research Initiated at Island University Thanks to Two Texas Sea Grant Awards

Published: March 22, 2018

Vital Oyster Research Initiated at Island University Thanks to Two Texas Sea Grant Awards

 

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Two Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi professors, Dr. Jennifer Pollack, associate professor of marine biology, and Dr. John Scarpa, associate professor of aquaculture, recently received Texas Sea Grant awards for their research focusing on oyster reef restoration. The Texas Sea Grant program only funds four to six proposals a year from researchers across the state, making these grants highly competitive.

Pollack, along with her co-primary investigators Dr. Greg Stunz, professor of marine biology and endowed chair for fisheries and ocean health at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, and his post-doctoral research associates, Judd Curtis and Matt Streich, will research the habitat value of restored oyster reefs compared to natural reefs. The research project will be conducted through multiple field studies within the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. They hope to determine whether restored oyster reefs become similar to natural reefs and will work on quantifying how long the process takes. Oyster reefs are an important part of the ecosystem because they increase water quality, influence water circulation and stabilize the sea floor. Data collected will provide key information to increase the effectiveness of restoration methods to maximize the habitat value and ecosystem function of the restored reefs.

“We are so excited to be partnering with Texas Sea Grant to make direct comparisons of natural and restored intertidal and sub-tidal oyster reefs within the same habitat mosaic to fully understand their habitat role in estuarine ecosystems,” said Pollack. “Oyster provide numerous ecological and economic benefits that support coastal habitats and communities. Information from our project will provide much-needed insight to guide restoration methods for maximizing habitat value and ecosystem function in Texas bays.”

 Restoration efforts are also a key element in Scarpa’s research. He, along with researchers from the United States Naval Academy and the University of Delaware, received $279,686 to test the feasibility of restoring oyster reefs through direct restoration methods, which involves releasing oyster larvae directly onto existing reefs or artificial reefs. After the oyster larvae settle, they will grow into fully formed adult oysters living within the reef. Scarpa decided on testing this method due to recent catastrophic events, such as excessive rain and oil spills, which have decimated the population of young oysters in the Gulf of Mexico. If effective, this new method would potentially lower costs and allow oyster reefs to rebound faster as compared to standard restoration efforts in Texas.

“In Texas, oyster reef restoration has only been allowed through substrate addition, so the hope is that this research will allow development of this method to jump-start oyster populations at natural reefs or restoration sites,” said Scarpa. “Sea Grant support is vital for Texas and our nation as it focuses on applied science to problems that our citizens face along the coast. My colleagues and I are thrilled to have received this award and look forward to what we will find.”

The Texas Sea Grant is part of a collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State of Texas and universities across the state. It is a highly competitive program that works to improve the understanding, wise use and supervision of Texas coastal and marine resources through supporting research that will generate long-term impacts in Texas.