Growing oysters in the estuary of the Potomac River could improve the river’s water quality according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and US Geological Survey.
The study, published in the Aquatic Geochemistry journal, calculates that if 40% of the river bed in the estuary were used for shellfish cultivation, all of the nitrogen currently polluting that part of the Potomac would be removed.
The researchers concluded that further benefits to the ecosystem could be achieved if the aquaculture program were to be combined with restored oyster reefs.
The study was based on a data modeling program, and an ecosystem-wide scientific evaluation that examined how activities in the watershed affected the river’s estuary water quality.
The research team evaluated nitrogen flows from the Potomac River headwaters and the nutrient-related water-quality conditions of the estuary – eutrophication.
A statement on the report says that the team looked to assess how shellfish aquaculture – specifically oyster aquaculture – could work in concert with ongoing reductions in nutrient loading from upland farms to remove excess nutrients from the water.
The study pointed out that if 40% of the estuary couldn’t be cultivated, then cultivating only 15-20% would be beneficial, removing up to half of the incoming nutrients.
Suzanne Bricker, PhD a physical scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the paper’s lead author, was quoted as saying that eutrophication conditions in the Potomac estuary are “representative” of conditions found elsewhere in Chesapeake Bay and numerous US estuaries.
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