The Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina (CCA NC) and the Building Conservation Trust, CCA's national habitat program, have partnered to fund $100,000 for innovative oyster research conducted by Dr. Joel Fodrie at the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Science in Morehead City, N.C.
The grant allows Fodrie and his team of doctoral candidates to continue ongoing research into oyster reef restoration. Matthew Kenworth, Manager of the Institute's Fish Ecology Lab, said, "If we have more good quality habitat, we'll have better and more fish."
It's not all as easy as dumping oyster shell into the water, he explained. The different habitats of sea grass, mud flats and oyster reefs along with varying water depths create a puzzle that takes research to solve.
Fodrie's research will include building 32 new oyster reefs using different materials and locations to determine the best practices for successful oyster cultivation. The researchers will also tag up to 60 fish of different species with acoustic tags to discover how they use the new and restored oyster reefs.
Fodrie, Kenworthy and their UNC research group will build 16 reefs using traditional cultch shell, and 16 others using burlap and cement that presents a more three dimentional structure. Also, of the 32 reefs, 16 will be isolated from seagrass beds while the rest will be immediately adjacent to seagrass. In total, there will be eight reefs of each unique combination of material and seagrass proximity to determine which combination promotes the best oyster growth.
To learn how various species react to the different reef types, locations and depths, Fodrie's team will acoustically tag fish such as juvenile gag grouper, flounder and red drum then track which combinations prove the most attractive to fish. Earlier tracking on existing oyster reefs in the Middle Marsh area behind Shackleford Banks showed how red fish came onto the reefs on a daily basis to feed on small crabs. The transmitters are $330 each and last for about nine months, Kenworthy said.
The research team is already scouting sites and hopes to have all the reef materials deployed by June. CCA NC has also partnered with PenderWatch in Pender County to supply the project with 1000 bushels of recycled oyster shells to be used in the construction of the oyster reefs.
CCA NC Chairman Bud Abbott said, "We are deeply concerned about the quality of our waters, the conservation of our public trust resources and their habitat. The vast majority of our state fisheries are in serious trouble. Dr. Fodrie's project will provide critical information to our fishery management leaders necessary to better restore our public trust resources for all citizens of North Carolina."
"Partnering with CCA North Carolina, PenderWatch and the Building Conservation Trust presents a fantastic opportunity for us to do some creative science that can positively impact our state's fisheries and marine ecosystems," said Fodrie. "We're proud to be a part of an effort that brings together anglers, researchers and the private sector to increase our knowledge of how to be better stewards of the marine environment."
"This project is a blend of science and habitat restoration, and it is a perfect example of the kind of work BCT was created to do," said Sean Stone, executive director of BCT. "We're excited to see the results of this research and how that new information can be applied to future projects."