Day in the Life of Oyster Monitoring

By Kyelee Spence

Hello again, NERRds! My name is Kyelee Spence, and I am an intern in the communication department at GTM. I am halfway through my internship and have gotten to learn so many different and interesting things in my time at GTM. One of my favorite experiences so far was getting to go out in the field with researchers and learn about oyster monitoring! Now I am sure if you’ve been a long time NERRd, you are quite familiar with GTM’s oyster monitoring journey. Follow along as I take you on a day in the life as an oyster monitoring volunteer!

Biologist Alee Knoell and University of North Florida graduate research assistant Alyah Bennett recording the percent cover.

BEEP BEEP BEEP. It’s Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, and my 6 a.m. alarm is going off. I hop out of bed, brush my teeth and make a coffee. I put on some clothes that I don’t mind getting wet and muddy and leave the house. It is still dark outside, but streetlights line the drive to GTM Visitor Center. As soon as I arrive, the sun is out and the dew on the trees is glistening. It’s a beautiful morning. I park and meet Biologists Jacob Berna and Alee Knoell and University of North Florida graduate research assistant Alyah Bennett. We load up the boat with all the needed supplies for our oyster (Crassostrea Virginica) monitoring exhibition and pile into the truck to make the short drive to the Vilano boat ramp. On this drive I asked a few questions about oyster monitoring before jumping right in! One of my main questions was, what is the purpose of oyster monitoring? To this Alee responded:

  • To identify the status of the oyster population in the area.
  • To evaluate oyster abundance and size and monitor change over time.

(Another helpful resource for more background information on oyster monitoring is researcher Alee Knoell’s blog post, “Revisiting the Oysters,” which focused on past oyster monitoring efforts.)

Oyster Life Cycle

When we pulled into the Vilano boat ramp, we met up with another volunteer who was joining us on our outing. Once the boat had been backed up into the water, everyone put their life jackets and boots on, and we set out to our first oyster monitoring location. We stopped along the way to drop empty oyster shells from previous lab work in the same body of water they were extracted from because oyster shells are important substrata for new oyster larvae. After this, we continued to San Sebastian River where our two oyster monitoring reefs were located. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water, a solid 75 degrees and sunny!

GTM Biologist Jacob Berna laying out the meter transect tape to determine the length of the reef and sample side of the transect.

When we arrived at our first oyster reef, Jacob jumped out before anyone else to lay the meter transect tape. The transect tape allows us to determine the length of the reef and decide where on the reef we will sample from. We sampled six randomly selected quadrats, which are PVC squares that mark out known area of the reef. We walk on the side opposite of the sample side to avoid any destruction of the possible oyster samples. On the sample side of the transect we used a 1-meter by 1-meter PVC square called the percent cover quadrat, to mark our six sample areas. By using intersecting strings in this percent cover quadrat, we record each of 100 points as either: live oyster, dead oyster or other. After the percent cover is recorded, a smaller quadrat (0.25 m x 0.25m) is used to delineate an area to collect oysters. That spot will be dug out and bagged up to bring back to the lab for counting and measuring. Before leaving the first oyster monitoring site, Alee and Jacob measured the height of the reef from its tallest point and recorded it for future reference. Then we were off to the second reef in the San Sebastian River.

University of North Florida graduate research assistant, Alyah Bennett collecting oysters to take back to the lab from one of the sampling quadrants on the reef.

When we pulled up to this location, we repeated the same steps that we did on the first reef. This spot was a bit different though because we were trying to beat high tide. The five of us worked quickly to check off all the steps needed to monitor this oyster reef and got back into the boat. At this location we saw something unique, the tallest oyster cluster I have ever seen! Alee explained that this cluster was probably growing on a foreign object like a PVC pipe.

Tall cluster of oysters growing off of a foreign object.

As we navigated back to the Vilano boat ramp, we passed by historic St. Augustine. I got to see the Castillo de San Marcos fort from a different angle. I also saw a couple bottlenose dolphins swimming around the area as well. Once we pulled the boat out of the water, we hopped back into the truck and made our way back to GTM Research Reserve headquarters. We unpacked the boat and brought the oyster samples inside to store for a few days in the freezer. Apparently, another group of volunteers will be coming soon to count and measure all the oysters we collected.

This was my first experience with oyster monitoring! I hope it gave those of you who have never been out in the field some insight on the experience. If you would like to get involved in GTM’s oyster monitoring efforts, you can help out on the reefs or in the lab collecting data.

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