Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 2

research by kayak. a break from science. playing with concrete

Sea kayaking. Is hard.

Steve, my advisor, wanted to visit the dredge islands of Coos Bay to collect oyster shells for several different projects, and he suggested kayaking to get them.  I immediately loved the idea.  Recreation and science together!  So we got buckets, trash bags, and ziplock bags to gather up hundreds of forgotten oyster shells and set off for these islands.

The dredge islands were formed the many times Coos Bay was dredged for the safe passage of ships.  Deep canals were created by digging up all the sediment and placing it on one side of the bay, creating heaps of stuff that used to be on the bay floor.  After years and years, grasses, shrubs, and trees colonized the newly formed islands and created what you see on the left.  Much of it is still inundated with water except during low tides as you can see on the right.  What’s most interesting about these dredge islands, is that they are comprised of thousands of old oyster shells that were picked up from the bottom of the bay along with all the sediment during the dredgings.  Apparently, oysters used to be abundant in the subtidal waters of Coos Bay, and you can still see their remnants by the hundreds in some areas, just like in the middle picture.

We collected oyster shells for a number of different projects.  1) Since these oysters were most likely from subtidal waters (always submerged), we wanted to compare their sizes with the intertidal oysters (exposed during low tides) that are common today.  We expect the subtidal oysters to be larger because Olympia oysters seem to fare better if they are submerged for longer periods of time.  A known-sized square was sectioned off, and all the whole and intact shells within that area were collected and will be used for the comparison.  2) We also collected the biggest shells we could find, and about 10 gallons of crushed shells to use in our Oly Roc project, which I will describe later.
I’ve found that field research is a great deal of fun, but a lot of hard work.  I was completely exhausted by the end of this collection trip, which is probably explained by the fact that my kayaking partner and I could not seem to paddle in the direction we wanted for about an hour, and maybe because we got stuck up to our knees in soft mud several times, but that seems to be the life of a field researcher.  You go up against the elements, explore to find new and exciting things.. and learn where you shouldn’t go next time.
I finally took a break from science and got the chance to sit in on a national reserve’s board meeting.  The administration, the scientists, public relations, education outreach, and the head of the Department of State Lands all came together to talk about all the issues that pertain to an estuary reserve.  I did not realize how complicated and complex these could be.  Governmental departments, non-profits, community groups, academia, are all involved, and they all want to help but also need to be appeased.  To be honest, I got pretty lost after only maybe 10 minutes in this meeting.  I also did not realize how much the operations of such a group rely on money.  They need to be funded to employ staff, maintain the grounds, implement projects, and do scientific research.  It seemed like a very stressful topic.  Even though they are granted money by the state’s budget, it is not much, and they have to apply for more funding through grants, and they lose money left and right from budget cuts.  It seemed like they had a lot on their plates, what with the responsibility to meet the demands of many different groups but being restricted by money, manpower, and their own jurisdiction.  I have a lot of respect for them.
Moving on, the last project of the weeks was the Oly Rocs!  Olympia oyster restoration is happening all over the Northwestern coast, but what makes Coos Bay special is that there is constantly a high level of larval recruitment.  That means that the bay gets thousands and thousands of little oyster babies looking for a suitable place to call home.  The problem is, much of the suitable places have been destroyed by man and nature, and the tiny oysters have nowhere stable and safe enough to be able to survive.
So we’re going to try to create some for them!  We need lots and lots of shells because oyster babies love growing on them, and something heavy and durable enough to not just disperse into the open sea because of the major tide action.
Answer: Lots of shell and concrete.
So I made my first Oly Roc – a trial run, I would say.  It needs a lot of work and tweaking in terms of the process of making it.  I am just learning about mixing, placing, and curing concrete, and then I have to think about toxicity for the oysters and the possibility of the concrete weakening in saltwater.  If you know anything about those two, let me know!
What’s in store for next week:  probably working on perfecting the Oly Roc, gathering information for short blurbs to educate the public on native oysters and restoring them, and learning about data loggers that will help us track environmental changes in the bay!
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3 thoughts on “Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 2

  1. Hi Joanne,

    Your adventures sound amazing! It sounds like field research is a lot of hard work, but the exploration sounds fun! I enjoyed reading about the Oly Roc too. Are oyster larvae seasonal or do they reproduce year round? Will you get a chance to see your Oly Roc used by the baby oysters while you’re working? I would be interested to see the progress!

  2. The dredge islands seem like a great site to study oysters from the past and also inform current studies. Any plans to return?

  3. Amy – They’re seasonal. The ones arounds here reproduce about two times in the summer, so yes, I will be able to see some larval recruitment! =]

    Sarah – Probably! My advisor has a lot planned for me and I’m sure we can use more shells and data from there.

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