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$1.9 million grant given to protect oyster reefs | News | rockportpilot … – Rockport Pilot

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Partly to mostly cloudy with scattered showers and thunderstorms this afternoon. High around 80F. Winds SE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 40%..
Thunderstorms likely. Low 59F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Locally heavy rainfall possible.
Updated: November 9, 2023 @ 12:21 pm

Oyster fisheries in Texas are an important driver for the coastal economy and tourism. Oyster reefs can be difficult to manage because little is known about how protective actions like restoration or fishery closures impact reefs. A large-scale project will begin this year to collect a wide variety of data to understand which management actions work best and in what locations and why.
A new $1.9 million dollar award was recently announced from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI), with partnerships with Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), The Nature Conservancy (NC), Texas Coastal Conservation Association (TCCA), Mission-Aransas Reserve (includes Aransas County), and the City of Port Aransas. Researchers will study the response of oyster reefs to management actions and work with various stakeholders to present and digest the findings.
Oyster reefs are a cornerstone of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem, offering benefits that include supporting valuable fisheries, protecting coastlines from erosion, improving water quality, and providing habitat for essential marine species. Unfortunately, these reefs have substantially declined, prompting the need for well-informed conservation strategies.
Currently overseen by the TPWD, the management of oyster reefs involves techniques like long-term harvest closures and supplementary actions like oyster transplants and resurfacing. Despite these efforts, the impact of these management actions on reef health and functionality needs to be more understood.
This newly funded project seeks to address this knowledge gap by answering crucial questions:
• What is the variation in oyster reef ecosystem health across five bays in South Texas?
• How strongly does oyster abundance correlate with other indicators of reef health?
• What are the effects of reef harvest closures on reef health compared to other environmental factors?
• Which currently closed reefs could benefit from restorative actions or live oyster transplants?
• Which currently opened reefs need protective measures?
Over three years, the project will employ advanced monitoring techniques on 50 oyster reefs. These methods include analyzing oyster population dynamics, assessing physical reef structures, and monitoring associated communities using environmental DNA surveys, and passive acoustic techniques. Additionally, the project will track sportfish use of oyster reef habitats and assess environmental factors such as water quality, ecotoxicology, and disease prevalence.
The project aims to develop a tool that uses the collected data to predict the effects of different management actions under specific local conditions. This tool will be shared with TPWD, enhancing their ability to make well-informed decisions regarding managing Texas’ oyster reefs.
Dr. Simon Brandl, Assistant Professor at the UTMSI, leads the effort. The project also includes Drs. Keisha Bahr, Daniel Coffey, and Jennifer Beseres-Pollack from TAMU-CC, Drs. Jordan Casey, Christopher Biggs, and Kristin Nielsen from UTMSI, Dr. Emma Clarkson with TPWD, Dr. Lauren Williams with the NC, Shane Bonnot and John Blaha with TCCA, Katie Swanson at UTMSI’s Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Rae Mooney with the City of Port Aransas.
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