UL Lafayette Announced Project to Increase Oyster Resilience

It was recently announced that The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will be spearheading a $14 million research initiative over a three year period to develop a resilient oyster broodstock that will have the ability to live in environments with low salinity, according to a press release from the university and an article from The Acadiana Advocate. The project to create oyster resilience, which is being funded by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is called LO-SPAT or “Leveraging Opportunities and Strategic Partnerships to Advance Tolerant Oysters for Restoration. It’s designed to help sustain populations of shellfish and at the same time support the seafood industry.

The project’s principal investigator Dr. Beth Stauffe, commented on the project’s objective by saying, “the objective is to examine low-salinity tolerant populations of oysters. We’re researching how low salinity – and other environmental stressors – factor in, and identifying heritable traits that make some oysters hardier than others.”

Outside of being LO-SPAT’s principal investigator, Dr. Stauffe is an associate professor in the Department of Biologyat UL Lafayette as well as a phytoplankton ecologist. Alongside Dr. Stauffe, the project will be worked on by other researchers from UL Lafayette, scientists from the LSU Agricultural Center, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The project’s partner from the private sector is the Mississippi-based oyster aquaculture company Spat-Tech.

One of the principal efforts the project team focused on was the collective examination of the entire oyster life cycle– from larvae to broodstock to juveniles- at which point they can be deployed into nurseries and restored reef sites. In order to observe the entire life cycle, the team of researchers must both pool together its multiple sources of expertise in oyster husbandry, molecular biology, coastal ecology, restoration ecology, environmental monitoring, economics, and organismal biology.

The process to begin the creation of better oyster resilience and sustainable breeding operations for the oysters starts with the collecting of wild oysters, introducing them to what’s known as stressors, and using molecular tools to determine which oysters prove capable in unfavorable conditions. The resilient oysters that will emerge from this project will be incredibly impactful due to the fact that Louisiana is one of the nation’s major oyster-producing states.

Despite their popularity, the recent years haven’t been kind to the Louisiana shellfish, as production has declined due to the increases seen in rainfall and flooding in the state and along the Gulf Coast in recent years. This has created massive ecological and economic consequences because the increase in rainwater has introduced high amounts of freshwater into reefs and oyster habitats, which is disrupting the amount of salt that they need to survive, grow, and reproduce, therefore decreasing our oyster resilience.

The secretary of the LO-SPAT project’s funding partner, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is Jack Montoucet. Montoucet commented on the impact of the project by saying, “A comprehensive approach to addressing a state, regional and national problem, and we’re excited to play a role in that. Developing an oyster that can tolerate low salinity for an extended period of time – which we don’t have now – is important to maintaining the industry as we know it. And with all of the research capabilities that exist today, we should be able to do that.

In order for a coastal ecosystem to be considered healthy, a resilient supply of oysters are absolutely essential, as they both build reefs that provide a habitat for fish and other marine life and filter massive volumes of water. The Gulf of Mexico produces approximately 46% of the United States’s oysters with the regional oyster industry producing an annual value of $66 million. Therefore, LO-SPAT and other similar initiatives are ever-more vital to a healthy economy and sealife.

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