If you were an oyster, where would you want to live?
At Mississippi State University, it's a question worth asking. Oysters that live in the Gulf of Mexico are a boon for the environment and the economy. But after the dual disasters of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, oyster harvests in the gulf dropped an astonishing 90 percent. Oyster habitats also suffer when inland storms wash large amounts of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound.
MSU researchers believe oysters deserve a helping hand. That's why they're working hard to develop strategies to restore one of Mississippi's most precious resources.
Linhoss explains that even though oysters are resilient creatures, they're picky about their surroundings. Conditions such as salinity, water depth, turbidity, temperature and dissolved oxygen must be ideal for oysters to settle down and start families.
MSU researchers plan to nudge them in the right direction by placing restoration reefs in areas that are well-suited for their needs.
Linhoss' research team is using hydrodynamic and water quality models to simulate environmental conditions that are beneficial for oysters. This information combined with maps of existing oyster reefs are helping them strategically position new restoration reefs in places where oysters have the best chance for survival.
Oyster rejuvenation is one of many ways that Mississippi State serves as a helpful resource for coastal communities. In addition to research activities, the MSU Coastal Research and Extension Center ensures that MSU allocates time and resources to critical issues facing coastal-area agricultural producers and industries, including seafood and aquaculture.
MSU's coastal expertise also became a key resource for the state of Mississippi when Gov. Phil Bryant created the Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council in 2015 to increase support for the oyster industry. MSU is partnering with a number of research and governmental agencies to provide hands-on training and assistance to improve oyster farming techniques.
In March 2017, MSU hosted “The Future of Water: Regional Collaboration on Shared Climate, Coastlines and Watersheds," a conference that invited top research teams from SEC universities to share their insights and expertise on a wide range of water-related issues. Also attending were experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The conference showcased MSU's growing leadership in research areas that are vital to coastal resiliency, including the use of hydrodynamic modeling to simulate oyster movement and sustainability.