Oyster reefs hurt by salinity change in fresh and salt waters

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. - Kathy Knobel is visiting the Treasure Coast from Colorado, and she and her father are partaking in well-known local fare: oysters on the half-shell.

"We had three dozen today," she said. "We like the flavor, the taste, and we like the way they slither down your throat!"

Knobel said she knew tropical storms would make her favorite mollusk scarce.

"We come here every year for it," she explained. "I said, 'I've got to get here this year before they get wiped out,' haha."

Nick Darley, General Manager of Conchy Joe's restaurant in Jensen Beach, said they stocked oysters ahead of the storms, but their supply has quickly dwindled with the ongoing demand.  With Isaac's remnants possibly hitting the Treasure Coast this weekend, the area could be in for even more rain, and that would make the already-few oysters even more hard to find.

"We have people calling for them every day, so it's definitely disappointing right now that we don't have any oysters in," said Darley. "We are hoping to get them in, though, any day now."

Mark Perry with the Florida Oceanographic institute said last week's heavy rainfall flooded the St. Lucie estuaries, which hold more than four million dollars' worth of oyster reef restoration projects.

"It caused a lot of influx of fresh water," Perry said. "At times, it was over seven billion gallons of water a day coming in to the system."

Perry said the fresh and salt water mixing is destroying the delicate saline balance oysters need to thrive. Perry blames too much rainfall coming within in too short of a time.

"It's lasting longer, and we're concerned if it lasts too long, that the salinities will drop down to zero, or fresh water, and that will cause problems with oysters and seagrass beds, and other habitats," said Perry.

Oysters improve water quality by filtering toxins, and they support fisheries by keeping the waterways healthy. Knobel says not only do oysters bring those benefits, she also considers them a healthy snack. It's one she is in a hurry to enjoy while she still can.

"Tell them to bring another order of oysters-- we'd do it!" she laughed.

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