Restoring oyster habitat: Measuring ecosystem services and changing the management paradigm
During the past decade there has been a growing recognition that the habitat created by bivalves such as oysters and mussels is an important component of a functioning nearshore ecosystem, particularly in temperate latitudes. There has also been increasing documentation of the high level of loss of these habitats (Beck et al 2011) making oyster habitat the most imperiled marine habitat, primarily as a result of overexploitation. Along with the decline of bivalve habitat has been a decline in the ecosystem services supplied to coastal communities by these habitats, services such as sediment stabilization and shoreline protection, filtration and denitrification that maintain water quality, and the production of finfish and crustaceans of recreational or commercial importance. The number and scale of oyster habitat restoration projects has also been increasing in the US in recent years, raising the question what level of these ecosystem services do communities want to see returned, or how much bivalve habitat restoration is enough?
To address this question The Nature Conservancy and partners have begun quantifying these services and have compiled both a published and a web-based framework for setting objectives for oyster habitat restoration on a system-wide scale. Filtration and fish production both provide powerful frameworks for setting restoration objectives at this scale. Progress in quantifying these ecosystem services will be reviewed and the tools for setting objectives for oyster habitat restoration will be introduced. Quantifying the ecosystem services provided by oyster habitat also demonstrates the need to manage this biogenic habitat for the provision of multiple services, not purely for the extraction of oysters.