Understanding the time frame in which ecosystem services (that is, water quality maintenance, shoreline protection, habitat provision) are expected to be provided is important when restoration projects are being designed and implemented. Restoration of three-dimensional shell habitats in coastal Louisiana and elsewhere presents a valuable and potentially self-sustaining approach to providing shoreline protection, enhancing nekton habitat, and providing water quality maintenance. As with most restoration projects, the development of expected different ecosystem services often occurs over varying time frames, with some services provided immediately and others taking longer to develop.
This project was designed initially to compare the provision and development of ecosystem services by created fringing shoreline reefs in subtidal and intertidal environments in Vermilion Bay, Louisiana. Specifically, the goal was to test the null hypothesis that over time, the oyster recruitment and development of a sustainable oyster reef community would be similar at both intertidal and subtidal reef bases, and these sustainable reefs would in time provide similar shoreline stabilization, nekton habitat, and water quality services over similar time frames. Because the ecosystem services hypothesized to be provided by oyster reefs reflect long-term processes, fully testing the above-stated null hypothesis requires a longer-time frame than this project allowed. As such, this project was designed to provide the initial data on reef development and provision of ecosystem services, to identify services that may develop immediately, and to provide baseline data to allow for longer-term follow up studies tracking reef development over time.
Unfortunately, these initially created reef bases (subtidal, intertidal) were not constructed as planned because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, which resulted in reef duplicates being created 6 months apart. Further confounding the project were additional construction and restoration projects along the same shorelines which occurred between 2011 and June 2012. Because of constant activity near and around the reefs and continuing construction, development trajectories could not be compared among reef types at this time. This report presents the data collected at the sites over 3 years (2010–2012), describing only conditions and trends. In addition, these data provide an extensive and detailed dataset documenting initial conditions and initial ecosystem changes which will prove valuable in future data collection and analyses of reef development at this site.
Data collection characterized the local water quality conditions (salinity, temperature, total suspended sediments, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll a), adjacent marsh vegetation, soils, and shoreline position along the project shoreline at Vermilion Bay. During the study, marsh vegetation and soil characteristics were similar across the study area and did not change over time. Shoreline movement indicated shoreline loss at all sites, which varied by reefs. Water quality conditions followed expected seasonal patterns for this region, and no significant nonseasonal changes were measured throughout the study period. Despite oyster recruitment in fall 2010 and 2011, few if any oysters survived from the 2010 year class to 2012. At the last sampling of this project, some oysters recruited in fall 2011 survived through 2012, resulting in an on-reef density of 18.3 ± 2.1 individuals per square meter (mean size: 85.6 ± 2.2 millimeters). Because project goals were to compare reef development and provision of ecosystem services over time, as well as many of the processes identified for monitoring reflect long-term processes, results and data are presented only qualitatively, and trends or observations should be interpreted cautiously at this point. Measurable system responses to reef establishment require more time than was available for this study. These data provide a valuable baseline that can be ultimately used to help inform site selections for future restoration projects as well to further investigate the development trajectories of ecosystem provision of created reefs in this region.