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Oyster reef restoration efforts in Florida get help from potato chip byproduct

Longtime work to restore oyster reefs in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon has found a new, unusual ally: potato chips.

A news article published on ScienceBlog says the Coastal and Estuarine Ecology Lab at UCF has been experimenting with various products looking for an effective, biodegradable material for restoration that’s inexpensive. For the past 14 months the group has been testing a mesh made from leftover potato starch collected from chip factories.

So far, it’s been a successful method providing habitats for the lagoon’s vital shellfish population. A second material — a cement-infused fiber — also shows promise as an alternative to traditional plastic-based methods to attract oysters, which help improve lagoon water quality.

“The oysters seem to really be taking to the potato chip method,” says biology Professor Linda Walters. “While our plastic mesh was effective and brought over 14 million oysters to Mosquito Lagoon, this is an exciting step forward in using genuinely effective biodegradable materials.”

Oyster Reef Restoration Efforts Get Help from Potato Chip Byproduct

In the past 100 years, more than 85 percent of shellfish reefs have been lost globally as the result of human harvesting, loss of habitat, diseases and invasive species, according to research published in BioScience. Oyster reefs play a vital role in ecosystems as natural water filters, barriers against erosion and habitats for marine life.

“Harmful algal blooms became frequent after the loss of oysters,” Walters says. “The reefs can stabilize shorelines and provide nutrients to other animals. We need them so that synergy in ecosystem services may be restored.”

After 14 months of pilot testing, the potato chip reefs have over 400 live oysters per square meter.

“We wanted to test a method that is biodegradable and has the material lifespan approaching that of a local oyster. That span ranges around five to ten years,” explains Walters.

“People generally don’t understand how difficult it is to make biodegradable materials that get the job done for coastal restoration,” Walters said. “There are a lot of technicalities to consider when finding new materials to use. We also are testing for unintended consequences to the environment.”

Source: ScienceBlog. Read the full story here

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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