Along the east coast of central Florida in the Indian River Lagoon system, intense recreational boating activity occurs year-round, and intertidal reefs of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin) with dead margins (mounds of disarticulated shells) on their seaward edges are commonly found adjacent to major boating channels. These dead margins are caused, at least in part, by boat wakes and extend significantly higher above the high water line than reefs lacking dead margins (pristine reefs). To determine if these “impacted” oyster reefs alter recruitment and subsequent survival of C. virginica, three 8-wk field trials were run between May 2001 and April 2002 in Mosquito Lagoon. During each trial, data were also collected on total sediment loads, silt/clay fractions and relative water motion. Although recruitment did not differ between impacted and pristine reefs, juvenile survival was significantly reduced on impacted reefs. Additionally, larval recruitment and subsequent mortality were greatest during our summer trial. Total sediment loads, percent silt/clay, and relative water motion were significantly higher on impacted reefs. For these three variables, the largest values were consistently found at the bases of exposed (seaward) regions of impacted reefs. By documenting a positive relationship between reduced success of C. virginica and dead margins, and knowing that boat wakes contribute to the development of dead margins, we have provided the first cause and effect mechanism between intense recreational boating activity and increased oyster morality.
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Vol. 24 • No. 4