NCBS Intern Report by: Audrey Batzer, Intern with UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station and Dr. Christine Angelini in the UF Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences
Helping test oyster restoration strategies
This summer I was lucky enough to be paired with Dr. Christine Angelini’s ecological engineering lab working on a variety of projects based in Cedar Key, St. Augustine, and Sapelo Island, GA.
In Cedar Key, FL, we wrapped up Dr. Angelini’s 2-year study at Corrigan’s Reef, comparing the success of different substrates in oyster spat recruitment and subsequent growth. Major declines in oyster reef area along the Gulf Coast have been documented, but restoration efforts are logistically intensive due to the sheer area affected and the resources needed to deploy artificial substrates. The experiment aimed to assess the viability of using “green” materials in oyster restoration efforts within intertidal ecosystems like Corrigan’s Reef. The experiment tested four different substrates: concrete, plastic, a recycled crab trap, and a biodegradable material (BESE) derived from potato waste. The BESE structure, in addition to it’s eco-friendly status, is lightweight and easy to deploy, making it of great interest to those involved in restoration. The BESE structures are part of longer-term studies, so the data on their oyster spat recruitment success is limited now, but should be emerging in the next year or two. Throughout the project, I learned a lot about oyster settlement in relation to the complexity of reef structure, and how these structures impact biodiversity of nekton and benthic macroinvertebrates.
Living shorelines and mussel ecology
I also worked on a living shorelines project in the intracoastal waterway of St. Augustine. Wave action due to boat traffic has caused erosion along the banks, diminishing both oyster reef habitat and marsh cordgrass extent. Walls, comprised of Crepe Myrtle branches, were constructed to reduce erosion by dissipating wave energy to allow for finer sediment to settle out. BESE and oyster gabions were placed behind the walls to help build sediment and promote oyster growth. By reducing erosion, the walls should promote cordgrass regrowth (which further stabilizes the sediment)! Throughout the summer, I helped monitor these experimental sites, learned how to use RTK surveying equipment to establish GPS location and elevation, made repairs to any walls, and tested sediment composition behind the walls.
In Sapelo Island, GA, I was able to help out on an experiment aimed at assessing the influence of mussels on tidal creek morphology. We also worked on a project intended to quantify mussel pseudofeces accretion.
Through this NCBS internship, I gained a lot of marsh field experience, learned about coastal ecosystems, and gained a variety of relevant job skills, whether it be boat trailering, using power tools, or learning the basics of RTK surveying. I am super thankful for the opportunity that NCBS gave me this past summer and plan to continue with a career related to the management and restoration of Florida’s coastal ecosystems.