Meet Emma Johnson. She is a sophomore at the University of Florida, majoring in Environmental Engineering. Emma is involved in some student opportunities on campus, such as field research on Sapelo Island in Georgia with graduate students, and an in-depth study of Spanish Moss. Her most recent project is saving the Oyster population.
When I spoke with Emma, I could tell she was extremely passionate about preserving the current oyster population and enhancing their procreation rate. She invalidated the underestimated importance of oysters by detailing their role in water filtration, preventing erosion, and being a food source to other ocean organisms.
“The oysters actually filter sediment and other nutrients out of the water as they swim, approximately forty to fifty gallons per oyster, leaving a cleaner oceanic environment,” Emma told me, “and they help other organisms as well. Not only do they provide food for us, but they also provide food for larger fish feasting on their spat and provide shelter for smaller fish as they form layers.”
Emma’s tone saddened as she continued to say, “Unfortunately, even though they have all of these great uses, people don’t realize that due to the excessive amount of harvesting and disease, the oyster population has deteriorated dramatically – I would give a rough estimate of around 90% deterioration – and that’s what influenced me to become a part of this research.”
After further research, I found that Emma’s estimate of 90% deterioration was close, but not close enough. In fact, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program, also doing research on the topic, the oyster population is not even a mere 1% of what it formerly was.
With the degradation of the oyster population occurring so rapidly, Dr. Christine Angelini, the Assistant Professor in Environmental Engineering, and other students like Emma have been working for more than six months on answering the question: How to recruit spat on the west coast of Florida through the use of structures specifically and uniquely built to maintain efficiency?
These unique structures being used are a type of biodegradable plastic used in the Netherlands. This ensures that the structure is organic and nontoxic to the environment as they conduct their research. The team is also using abandoned crab traps in order to observe the level of spat growth.
As of August 2015, the research team was able to take a trip to the West Coast and place the biodegradable structures in the water, making sure they were secure and stable. A month later, the team revisited the spot in order to observe, document, and analyze the results.
Emma spoke of the experience, saying, “When we first placed the structures in the water, after working tirelessly throughout the summer to build them, I felt an immediate sense of accomplishment. I had a feeling that this research was going to provide great data for the conservation of the oyster population. After checking on them a month later, I was shocked at how many barnacles and spat had taken to the structures!”
When concluding my time with Emma, I asked her what she found most surprising about her experience in general. She answered, “I was surprised at how fun the experiment and the process was – it was extremely interesting and refreshingly intriguing to learn about the various ecosystems of the ocean as well as how the oyster population effects, and is affected by, its interactions with its surroundings. Most of all, I think I am the most surprised at the fact that this research project is what has guided me to be on the path I am on – the path to where I am going in life.”
For more information on the experiment or Emma’s experience(s), she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Chesapeake Bay Program, visit here.
Editor: Summer Lee