Emory Wellman studies storm resilience of restored oyster reefs

Emory’s Masters degree research in the lab of Dr. Rachel Gittman focuses on oyster reef restoration. In May 2018, oyster reefs were built from two different substrata on eroding salt marsh shorelines in the Rachel Carson Reserve in Beaufort, NC. Emory is investigating how well each substratum fosters growth of self-sustaining oyster communities, and whether it prevents erosion of the vulnerable salt marsh that lies landward. To understand the reef’s protective ability, she collects data during periods of normal weather and immediately before and after storm events like Isaias. Now that the reefs have survived four hurricanes/tropical storms (Florence, Michael, Dorian, and Isaias), Emory will analyze data to see whether one substratum is more resilient to a given intensity of storm. Existing work indicates that the protective benefits of oyster reefs hinge on both storm and substratum characteristics, so lessons learned from this project will help to inform future restoration efforts for both oyster beds and salt marshes.

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