Oysters (especially the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica) are an abundant natural resource of considerable economic, ecological and social importance throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Major oyster reed habitats include reef flats (intertidal and shallow subtidal), fringing marsh reef, dispersed reef clusters, and mangrove prop root oyster communities. Although much research has shown that oyster reefs provide invaluable biogenic habitats for numerous invertebrate and finfish species throughout the entire range of C. virginica (Canada through Brazil), most sites in the Gulf of Mexico lack detailed quantitative data regarding oyster population demographics, critical oyster attributes (abundance, reproduction, levels of stress-related physiological and mutation markers, etc.) and the biodiverse communities associated with oyster in this region. Without immediate efforts to obtain theses baseline data on C. virginica along the Florida Gulf coast, it will be impossible to adequately assess the impacts, required restoration and eventual recovery from discharges of the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Our goals are to:
- Assess pre-spill conditions in oyster habitats from the Panhandle through extreme South Florida (Ten Thousand Islands and/or Keys) and collect data on a simple tissue indicator of oil extent;
- Catalogue survival and growth in areas where different degrees of oil-related impacts occur, and compare theses among sites using tissue PAH concentration as a covariate;
- Determine pre-spill levels of genetic diversity and patterns of spatial genetic relatedness among locations on the Gulf Coast (and between mangrove and reef flat habitats in southern areas), and monitor how oil exposure affects these population parameters;
- Examine the inherent PAHs in key reef organisms in impacted and distant (unimpacted) areas on Florida Gulf sites; and
- Describe the results in a GIS format of overlays for future3 use by those who will be involved in long term monitoring. Because baseline C. virginica population data is paramount to assessing the magnitude of any oil-related impacts, funding for a Quick Start approach is essential to achieving these objectives.