Oysters the focus of new Sea Grant oil spill science publication

In the Gulf of Mexico and around the country, oyster restoration and aquaculture is a hot topic. A popular seafood delicacy, oysters in the wild also perform important ecological functions. These shellfish naturally filter nutrients from water that passes through their gills and the reefs they live on help stabilize the shoreline. Both of these features make oysters susceptible to impacts from environmental fluctuations. The latest Sea Grant oil spill science outreach team publication Oysters and oil spills delves into what scientists know about how oysters fare when faced with oil in their environment, whether it be from natural seeps or a man-made spill.

The publication, which includes only peer-reviewed findings in its cited research, opens by acknowledging that oysters “regularly cope with challenges like pollution, changing water temperatures, fluctuations in fresh and salt water, harvesting, and coastal development.” So where does oil fit into the puzzle? Oil can enter the environment in various amounts through different means. Oysters, being fixed to their reefs, cannot escape exposure once oil is in their area. And with all of the other factors that might impact oyster development and survival, how can scientists tease out oil’s place in the equation?

Oysters and oil spills looks into what scientists have learned about oyster resilience in the face of oil encroachment. The publication summarizes how oysters fare throughout their life cycle when they encounter oil, and also addresses some of the human activities occasionally associated with oil spill response and management. It also looks at fisheries landings data to see if major oil spill events impact oyster harvests within the same area.  Oysters and oil spills covers the fact that sometimes results found in lab studies do not match in situ—or live—observations of oysters encountering oil in the wild and what that could mean. Finally, the publication briefly outlines the ways in which natural resource managers use scientific data to plan oyster restoration efforts in places where populations have fallen, whether due to oil or some other cause.

The Sea Grant oil spill outreach team produces a number of publications and seminars on oil spill science topics every year to answer questions audiences have about oil spills and their aftermaths. These products are great resources for anyone—with or without an academic or research background—wanting to learn more about oil spill science. To learn more about the team, check out the program webpage.

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The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program is a joint project of the four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant College Programs, with funding from partner Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The team’s mission is to collect and translate the latest peer-reviewed research for those who rely on a healthy Gulf for work or recreation. To learn more about the team’s products and presentations, visit gulfseagrant.org/oilspillscience.

Featured image: In this “Sink Your Shucks” oyster recycling program in Corpus Christi, Texas, volunteers collect truckloads of discarded oyster shells from locally participating restaurants. They bundle the shells and place them back in the bays to rebuild oyster reefs and promote regeneration of oysters. (Jennifer Pollack)