TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ⎯ Florida State University marine biologist David L. Kimbro will lead scientists from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Maine in a massive effort to study the health and future of the nation's natural oyster reefs in 12 estuaries spanning 1,000 miles of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico shoreline.
The multi-institutional project, which kicked off June 1, has become even more vital now following the calamitous Gulf oil spill that began in April. Funded by a new, three-year $850,342 grant from the National Science Foundation's Biological Oceanography Program, the study is expected to guide restoration of what were already the world's most devastated estuarine habitats while producing important information on the oil spill's effects. Some of the scientists' work will be documented on public television (http://wfsu.org/community/coastal-health).
"Our forthcoming research will be critically important because oysters promote healthy estuaries by filtering water and increasing the diversity of economically important fishes and invertebrates," said Kimbro, a postdoctoral associate at The Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. "In turn, healthy estuaries support a lot of economic and recreational activity.
"But, having been decimated by historical overfishing, disease and poor water quality, natural oyster reefs are now the most degraded estuarine habitat worldwide, with only about 15 percent of global oyster reefs remaining," he said. "Unfortunately, here in the United States, we've eaten and dredged away most of the oyster habitat."
Before harvesting began along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts, oyster reefs probably maintained estuarine health by filtering enormous volumes of water, cycling nutrients, and increasing biodiversity and system productivity, Kimbro said.
Although considerable funding and effort have been devoted
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Florida State University