5th UF Water Institute Symposium Abstract

Submitter's Name David Kaplan
Session Name Coastal Water Resources
Author(s) David Kaplan,  University of Florida (Presenting Author)
  Maitane  Olabarrieta,  University of Florida
  Peter Frederick, University of Florida
  Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, University of Florida
  Oyster Reefs Impact Estuarine Salinity Over Large Spatial Scales
  Oyster reefs have been shown to provide myriad critical ecosystem services, however their role in directing flow and currents during non-storm conditions has been largely neglected. In many regions, oyster reefs form as linear structures perpendicular to the coast and across the path of streams and rivers, potentially entraining large volumes of freshwater flow and altering nearshore mixing. We hypothesize that these reefs have the potential to influence salinity over large areas, providing a “keystone” ecosystem service by supporting multiple estuarine functions. Here we present results from a field and modeling study to quantify the effects of reef extent and elevation on estuarine salinities under varying river discharge. We found salinity differences ranging from 2 to 16 g/kg between inshore and offshore sides of degraded oyster reefs in the Suwannee Sound (FL, USA), supporting the role of reefs as local-scale freshwater dams. Moreover, differences between inshore and offshore salinities were correlated with flow, with the most marked differences during periods of low flow. Hydrodynamic modeling using the 3-D Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) suggests that the currently degraded reef system entrained greater volumes of freshwater in the past, buffering the landward advance of high salinities, particularly during low flow events related to droughts. Using ROMS, we also modeled a variety of hypothetical oyster bar morphology scenarios (historical, current, and “restored”) to understand how changes in reef structure (elevation, extent, and completeness) impact estuarine mixing and near-shore salinities. Taken together, these results serve to: 1) elucidate a poorly documented ecosystem service of oyster reefs; 2) provide an estimate of the magnitude and sptial extent of the freshwater entrainment effect; and 3) offer quantitative information to managers and restoration specialists interested in restoring oyster habitat.