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FGCU, SCCF Marine Lab resume oyster spat research

By SCCF - | Jun 9, 2021

SCCF FGCU Assistant Professor Melissa May collects bivalve larvae.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation reported that it has been teaming up with two Florida Gulf Coast University professors to continue research on oysters in the region. The goal is to study larval transport, distribution and settlement, which are key components of oyster reef restoration.

To reproduce, oysters spawn tiny larvae that move through the water and settle on a surface. The source of larvae and their eventual fate in the bay can help prioritize areas for future restoration projects. The SCCF has established sites for collecting data on oyster spat — juvenile — settlement along the salinity gradient. Sampling is conducted during the oyster spawning season, which is from May to November, and field expeditions will occur at two-week intervals.

FGCU Associate Marine Science Professor Felix Jose has developed a 3-D hydrodynamic model that predicts tidal currents and the influences of the Caloosahatchee River flows. The model is coupled with an oyster larval transport model that can predict the movement and distribution of larvae.

FGCU Assistant Professor Melissa May uses molecular techniques, including DNA and RNA, to study mollusk and bivalve physiology. She is developing DNA-based markers to distinguish oyster larvae from other bivalve larvae.

Several undergraduate students are also assisting and learning about how to conduct marine biology research focused on restoring water quality in the region.

SCCF Oyster shells are hung from PVC to determine the number of oyster spat that settle in a two-week period.

The SCCF reported that healthy oyster populations and seagrass beds are vital to the health of estuarine ecosystems. Excessive freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the Calooshatchee watershed have resulted in declines of the critical habitats.