MEPS 389:159-170 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08164

Success of constructed oyster reefs in no-harvest sanctuaries: implications for restoration

Sean P. Powers1,*, Charles H. Peterson2, Jonathan H. Grabowski3, Hunter S. Lenihan4

1Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab, 101 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA
2Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 3431 Arendell Street, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA
3Gulf of Maine Research Institute, 350 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine 04101, USA
4Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, Bren Hall 3428, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA

ABSTRACT: Dramatic declines in populations of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica are a symptom of degradation in many US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico estuaries. We sampled 94 oyster reefs (88 constructed, 6 natural) within 11 no-harvest sanctuaries in estuaries of central and northern North Carolina, USA, to evaluate the success of oyster sanctuaries as a conservation tool. The sanctuaries have been in existence from 3 to 30 yr; 10 sanctuaries protect constructed (‘restored’) oyster reefs and 1 sanctuary protects natural reefs. Measurements of vertical relief, live oyster density, recruitment, abundance of market-sized oysters, and biomass as well as disease prevalence and severity indicated that 7 of the 11 sanctuaries met criteria for minimal success by having vertical relief >20 cm in height, living oysters (>10 oysters m–2), and evidence of recent recruitment in 1 of 2 yr of the survey. Most reefs within the 7 sanctuaries far surpassed these relatively low benchmarks. For reefs that failed, burial by sedimentation appeared to be the primary cause in 2 sanctuaries, poor water quality (low dissolved oxygen) in 1, and poor oyster recruitment in another. All intertidal reefs were successful and had significantly higher densities of all size categories of live oysters (spat, adult, marketable size) than subtidal oyster reefs. Disease prevalence and severity were low in sanctuary reefs despite high oyster densities and increased longevity of oysters on these reefs. Pronouncements that restoration of the native eastern oyster is a failure prove incorrect when a decade-long history of oyster reef sanctuaries is evaluated. The proposed introduction of a non-native oyster into the US Atlantic coast estuaries cannot be justified by claiming failure of native oyster restoration in light of promising successes within sanctuaries.

KEY WORDS: Crassostrea virginica . Marine protected areas . No-harvest sanctuaries . Oyster disease . Restoration . Fisheries

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Cite this article as: Powers SP, Peterson CH, Grabowski JH, Lenihan HS (2009) Success of constructed oyster reefs in no-harvest sanctuaries: implications for restoration. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 389:159-170

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