The Great Artificial Reef
by Colleen Blaine
Oysters are some of the best natural water filters. One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water each day. Oyster filtration removes algal biomass, thus clearing the water and positively impacting other underwater species. Unfortunately, oyster reefs are being destroyed by overharvesting and effects of climate change. The Projects for Sustainable Development in Recovering and Developing Communities Creative Inquiry project, led by Dr. Caye Drapcho in the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences, is identifying ways to help oysters do their job.
With populations increasing in coastal towns such as Charleston, SC, oyster reef restoration is important for the health of the coastline and water purification. To aid in restoration, this team collects recycled oyster shells and creates sustainable structures made of wire for the shells to attach to. They install these artificial reefs in the ACE Basin of South Carolina. “We are trying to find the most effective structure, with the least amount of labor,” Ean Tucker, a freshman engineering major, explained.
When the structures are placed along the coastline of the ACE Basin, oyster shells attach to the wire. Over time, the oysters begin to grow on each other, establishing natural colonies. “The main goal is that you don’t need the [structures] anymore. Once a cluster [of oysters] starts to grow, they can create their own reef,” Freddy Nocella, a sophomore biosystems engineering major, said.
Before the artificial oyster reefs are placed in the water, the team weighs the shells. Last fall, they checked on their oyster structures to measure their success. “We can subtract off their initial weights and figure out the mass of the oysters that attached,” Ally Barrera, a sophomore biosystems engineering major, said.
As oysters continue to be a natural water filter and protect shorelines from erosion, it is important to develop ways to create an environment where healthy reefs can grow. This team is working to find the most cost-effective solution for oyster restoration with the least harmful impact on the environment. Through their innovative artificial reefs, this Creative Inquiry team has the potential to reinvigorate coastlines beyond South Carolina’s ACE Basin and throughout the world.
Barbara J. Speziale