Over the years, we have seen a tremendous decline in Brevard County’s ecologically important oyster population for several reasons…
But oysters are considered a keystone species in the Indian River Lagoon, meaning they hold a vital role in keeping the ecosystem balanced. If a keystone species is removed, it negatively affects many other species. So, although they are small in size, oysters are very important to the Indian River Lagoon ecosystem for several reasons…
Food: Oyster reefs are a food source for a wide variety of species in the Indian River Lagoon that feed directly on the oysters as well as on the critters living on and around oyster reefs.
Habitat: Fondly referred to as the “living razor blade,” oyster reefs provide plenty of hiding places for small critters and juvenile fishes. These tight crevices are a perfect nursery for small fish, and oyster reefs also provide a buffet of food, including algae, crustaceans and phytoplankton, in the surrounding habitat.
Erosion Prevention: Since oysters live along the shoreline, oyster reefs can help to prevent erosion. As damaging waves travel toward the coast, they first hit oyster reefs, which dissipate the wave energy, diminishing its effects on the shore. This decreases the amount of sediment being pulled away from the shoreline, therefore decreasing erosion.
Filter Feeding: Oysters use their gills to pull in water from the lagoon filled with suspended particles, such as algae and muck. Oysters use those particles to provide themselves with nutrients and minerals, and after an oyster has consumed all of the viable nutrients in a particular bit of water, it will spit it back out as cleaner and clearer lagoon water. Oysters filter feed around the clock at a rate of nearly 50 gallons of water per day. That’s more than 1,500 times their body volume. With this tremendous filtering ability, established oyster reefs are essential for improved water quality, which will result in a healthier Indian River Lagoon.
For more information on oysters, check out the Loxahatchee River District’s additional educational materials.