ABSI Ph.D. students Emily Fuqua and Adam Alfasso assessing the integrity of biodegradable poultry wire for use in future restoration experiments within Apalachicola Bay.

The Apalachicola Bay System Initiative
Newsletter – July 2023

an initiative of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab

The ABSI mission: to gain insight into the root causes of decline of the Apalachicola Bay ecosystem with a focus on oyster reefs, and ultimately, with guidance from the Community Advisory Board and input from stakeholders and the public, to develop science-informed restoration and ecosystem-based management plans focused on the recovery of oyster reefs and the health of Apalachicola Bay.

ABSI Science and Restoration Experiments

The purpose of the ABSI hatchery is to produce oysters for restoration, so we need to understand how well the hatchery oysters survive and grow in different parts of the Bay.  Additionally, FSU is studying how best to deploy these hatchery-raised oysters so they aren’t lost to currents and or buried by sediments. We also wish to avoid putting more plastic in the environment, so we are trying different biodegradable options for containing the oysters.

ABSI began a series of experiments in April 2023 with two separate deployments, one using adult oysters and the other spat-on-shell. These projects are designed to monitor the growth and survival of cultured oysters, and the subsequent wild recruitment on these oysters across Apalachicola Bay. Additionally, the degradation rates of two types of material (biodegradable mesh bags and poultry wire) will be assessed to identify the best material. The study will continue for 15 months, with quarterly monitoring.

Ten study sites were chosen across Apalachicola Bay (four in West Bay and six in East Bay). These sites were paired with active water quality monitoring stations that will help examine the relationship between growth and survival of cultured oysters and the surrounding physical environment.

To differentiate cultured oysters from wild recruitment, the adult oysters were tagged with tiny clay discs, and the spat were stained using calcein dye. This non-toxic dye is incorporated into the oyster shells so researchers know which spat are from the hatchery and which are wild set.

Our first sampling was conducted last week and the ABSI team is currently analyzing the data – stay tuned for updates.

ABSI Volunteer and Directed Individual Study (DIS) student Iliza Aguiar adhering color coded clay beads to individual oysters.
ABSI technician Jazzy Jones preparing calcein dyed spat- on-shell oysters for deployment in biodegradable (orange) bags.
Jazzy deploying the spat-on- shell oysters along Dry Bar.
Young Scholars Program – Pilot Studies

The Young Scholars Program (YSP) is a six-week residential Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program for exceptional FL high school students. The students engage in both academic classes and research under the mentorship of an FSU STEM faculty sponsor. This event affords the Young Scholars an opportunity to showcase the impressive research they have been conducting under the guidance of their faculty sponsors. Dr. Tara Stewart Merrill, one of ABSI’s faculty members, has three YSP students wrapping up projects in her lab:

Miaohan Lin’s project is investigating whether a N-halamine disinfectant can help us clear the parasite, dermo (Perkinsus marinus), to develop parasite-free experimental oysters. She is comparing the number of parasites in the tissue of a group of oysters that received a 24-hr treatment with the N-halamine to a control group that received no treatment.

Stella Xu’s project is comparing the findings of a paper* on the parasites in the Apalachee Bay area from 1961 to the parasites found today. She is looking at the parasites found in the marsh periwinkle (Littoraria irrorate) and the ladder hornsnail (Cerithideopsis scalariformis).

Nate Levy’s project is looking at the prevalence of an oyster gonad parasite, (Bucephalus cuculus), found in intertidal oysters compared to subtidal oysters. This will help direct future research into the next intermediate host for the parasite’s life cycle.

*Holliman – 1961- Larval trematodes from the Apalachee bay area, Florida, with a checklist of known marine cercariae arranged in a key to their superfamilies

Dr. Stewart Merrill, Nate and Stella all looking through dissecting microscopes for parasites in oyster gonads (Nate) and snail gonads (Dr. Stewart Merrill and Stella).
Stella and Nate preparing snail dissection.
Miaohan prepping samples before taking a mantle clipping.
Community Advisory Board (CAB)

The CAB is exploring ways for a new group to stay connected to the project after this year and help implement elements of its Restoration and Management Plan Framework adopted in November 2021. The CAB met on May 31st at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR). The meeting began with a CAB work plan presentation from Jeff Blair. It was then followed by an ABSI Science Update from Dr. Sandra Brooke which highlighted the recent oyster reef restoration experiments and preliminary findings.

Next, members received an update on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Restoration project from Devin Resko (FWC) and finally, a presentation from Dusty May of the BaySavers Group on flow from Lake Wimico. The rest of the meeting was spent focused on prioritizing strategies as the CAB works to finalize its Apalachicola Bay Restoration and Management Plan Framework. Once completed in November, the CAB will officially transition to a new group where the primary function will focus on implementing the plan. This will entail working with agencies, such as the FWC, and regional stakeholders to ensure oyster restoration, monitoring, and management are done successfully for a viable fishery in the future.

Coming up on August 9th is the next CAB Meeting, as well as another open Community Workshop from 6:00 – 8:00 pm in the ANERR Multi-purpose room.

ABSI strives to be transparent and to make the project’s information and communications easily accessible and understandable. Please let us know how we can improve our communications, or if you have any suggestions on how to best reach members within our local community. Email Outreach Coordinator Maddie Mahood at [email protected].

The entire history of the deliberations from each of the 27 meetings (22 CAB meetings and 4 Oystermen’s Workshops) since March 2020, including copies of all presentations and meeting recordings, are available on the ABSI Community Advisory Board website.

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