Evaluating Whether Oyster Aquaculture Can Help Restore Water Quality

For coastal communities, such as those on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, water quality and the overall health of coastal systems has been deteriorating due to nitrogen pollution, which can come from septic systems, fertilizers, and atmospheric deposition. Excess nitrogen leads to negative ecological and economic impacts on communities and coastal areas, including algal blooms, fish kills, and shellfish and beach closures. Towns along Cape Cod are under pressure to improve coastal water quality, but many approaches are very costly, such as developing centralized sewer treatment infrastructure for homes that currently have septic systems.

A number of towns are exploring the use of various shellfish aquaculture systems to remediate water quality. This project addresses a critical information gap identified by water quality managers and regulators, specifically: how much nitrogen is removed from coastal waters by common oyster aquaculture methods, and what culturing practices should be adopted to maximize benefits for water quality?