Oyster Reefs

When you think of oysters, you probably imagine pearls or the tasty creature that lives inside that rough and wrinkled shell. But did you know that oysters (and those shells) play a critical role in coastal ecosystems?

Oysters tend to grow on top of each other and old oyster shells, forming oyster reefs (also called oyster bars). This most commonly occurs in estuaries, where fresh water from rivers mixes with salty ocean water.¹ When oyster populations decline, the other plants and animals that live in these estuaries also suffer.2

Oysters and oyster reefs so important because

  • They provide a habitat and food for other sea life such as sea grass and young game fish.3
  • They reduce shoreline erosion by absorbing impact from ocean waves. As sea levels rise due to climate change, promoting the growth of oyster reefs may be one way of keeping encroaching seas in check.4
  • Oyster reefs’ buffering effect may also help maintain the brackish conditions estuaries need to thrive.3

Oyster reefs are more than just a feature in the coastal landscape—they are literally a way of life! For more on current UF/IFAS research on oyster reef restoration, check out the video below:

  1. Karl Havens, Climate Change: Effects on Salinity in Florida’s Estuaries and Responses of Oysters, Seagrass, and Other Animal and Plant Life, SGEF-218, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2015, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/sg138
  2. Becca Burton, “Residents Help Restore Indian River Lagoon By Growing Oysters From Their Docks,” Florida Sea Grant, 2015, https://www.flseagrant.org/news/2015/12/brevard-county-residents-help-restore-indian-river-lagoon-by-growing-oysters-from-their-docks/
  3. Tom Nordlie, “UF study shows restored oyster reefs beneficial beyond the dinner plate – shellfish help create and protect habitats critical to wildlife and human communities,” IFAS News, 2015, https://news.ifas.ufl.edu/2015/10/uf-study-shows-restored-oyster-reefs-beneficial-beyond-the-dinner-plate-shellfish-help-create-and-protect-habitats-critical-to-wildlife-and-human-communities/
  4. Whitney Gray, The Potential Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Florida’s Coastal Ecosystems, SGEF 205, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2013, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/sg131

Photo credits: Josh Wickham, UF/IFAS


Posted: February 8, 2016

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Natural Resources, SFYL Hot Topic, Water, Wildlife
Tags: Brackish Water, Environment Hot Topic, Estuaries, Oyster Reefs, Oysters, Shoreline Errosion

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