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Do Small, Patchy, Constructed Intertidal Oyster Reefs Reduce Salt Marsh Erosion As Well As Natural Reefs?

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One ecological service that oyster reefs provide is stabilization of shorelines through reduced wave energy and erosion from boat traffic, storms, and predominant wind direction. Additionally, increasing sedimentation can enhance the growth of emergent marsh vegetation which further stabilizes unconsolidated sediments. A 21 mo study of constructed (with only 30-35% coverage) and natural oyster reefs in 3 bayous in the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) suggested constructed reefs benefit this retrograding deltaic ecosystem. The marsh edge adjacent to all constructed reefs was less eroded (mean = 0.043 m) than edges adjacent to natural reefs (mean = 0.728 m), although all natural and constructed sites, regardless of bayou, illustrated large variations in marsh edge growth. The marsh edge in constructed sites in one bayou retreated more than in the other bayous, most likely due to its coarser sediments, greater boat traffic, and its apparent higher energy location within the landscape. By the end of this study, the ecological function of constructed oyster reefs in all bayous, as measured by marsh edge erosion reduction, was equivalent or exceeded the function in nearby natural oyster reefs. The physical structure of the reef further served to reduce erosion and marsh loss and this approach may be useful for management of a retrograding deltaic estuarine ecosystem like the Grand Bay NERR.

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