TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - New research from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, does not bode well for the future of oyster fisherman in the Big Bend.
According to their numbers, oyster reefs have declined by about 88 percent in the last 30 years.
“When water from rivers decreases — as has occurred in the Suwannee Sound— less fresh water mixes with salt water from the ocean,” said Peter Frederick, who is one of the primary investigators for the grant. “This causes salt levels in the estuary to rise, stressing oyster populations. At the same time, existing oyster reef chains act as a sort of leaky dam to keep some fresh water in the estuaries. As more oysters die, more ocean water mixes with fresh, boosting salinity.”
But hope may be on the horizon.
The National Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded $8.3 million to the restoration of shrinking reefs in the area.
Frederick said, “Through the buffering action of the reef, our restoration effort makes coastal natural resources more resilient to the threats of climate change and sea level rise,” he said.
The grant money will be applied to further research into the needs of the 3,000-year-old coral reefs in the Big Bend area, and then applied to their restoration.
“This grant is one more way UF/IFAS can help foster sustainable communities and ecosystems on the Nature Coast,” said Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “This work also dovetails with efforts by our state and local partners to conserve land and water resources in our coastal areas,” he said.