Researchers say oyster reefs are under threat due to the increased use of non-concrete vinyl dams.

Scientists have observed oysters not attaching correctly to vinyl dams compared to concrete dams.

SARASOTA, Florida. There is growing concern among researchers in the Tampa Bay area about the impact of non-concrete dams on marine life.

In addition to protecting coastal property and coastlines from phenomena such as tides and erosion, seawalls are also one of the important artificial habitats for oysters. However, the researchers say the increase in the use of vinyl fencing instead of concrete is affecting the growth and restocking of oysters.

According to Sarasota Bay Sanctuary program researchers, vinyl dams are rapidly replacing concrete due to cost and durability. According to them, this prevents the formation of oyster reefs and, in turn, can affect water quality.

“One of our biggest oyster reef habitats is these concrete seawalls, and they’re being replaced by a type that doesn’t grow oysters very well,” said Dave Tomasco of the Sarasota Bay Sanctuary Program.

Tomasco and his team have studied several dykes in the area, and their findings have raised serious concerns.

Of the 32 dams studied, 16 of which were made of plastic-vinyl material and 16 of concrete, scientists observed oysters that did not properly attach to vinyl compared to concrete.

“This is a problem in terms of our water quality because oysters filter thousands of gallons of water a day, which is why we spent a lot of money installing oyster reefs in Tampa and Sarasota bays. We are losing a lot of oysters because of this substitution,” Tomasco said.

The researchers came up with what they say could be a potential solution. SBEP is currently working on a waterfront project in partnership with the City of Long Boat Key to show other waterfront communities how to address this issue. As part of a pilot project, they plan to install mangrove-like concrete panels on top of vinyl dams. The stalk-shaped lattices will help the oysters attach properly.

Even before the Longboat Key dykes were the target of the project, researchers had already created an example at Englewood back in 2016. This panel of specimens has already shown positive signs in helping to restore artificial oyster reefs on seawalls.

The researchers hope that property owners who already have vinyl dams or who intend to install them will save money and see the benefits of adding mangrove concrete panels.

“Because you live on water, you are the person who benefits the most from improving our water quality. Maybe you can find a way to make a concrete sea wall, but if you can’t, maybe it’s a way to lessen some of the impact of losing those oysters by replacing the concrete with plastic,” Tomasco said.

The panels will be placed along the entire coastline of Bayfront Park in Long Boat Key. The project cost about $500,000 and is funded under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.

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