Oyster Reef Research Plan: Request for Letters of Intent

Background. A key component of the Mississippi-based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence [MBRACE] Science Plan is “sustainable and resilient growth, economic and commercial development in the Gulf of Mexico,” particularly as this integrates with the Governor’s Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council [GORRC] goals.  Thus, the coordinated research goal for 2017 is focused on mapping, monitoring, assessing, modeling, and restoring oyster reefs of the Mississippi coastline. 

Specific Research Areas.  From the final MBRACE Science Plan [approved 15 February 2017 by the MBRACE Executive Steering Committee, and currently pending approval from the U.S. Department of the Treasury]: 

1.     Benthic habitat mapping repeated at sufficient intervals to determine spatial and temporal variations in substrate types and firmness.

2.     Hydrological monitoring and modeling to assess effects from riverine freshwater discharge, associated sedimentation/erosion patterns, and seasonal HAB and hypoxia events.

3.     Local-scale reef biological and ecological conditions, such as baseline oyster population dynamics, shell budget metrics, fine-scale water quality/chemistry parameters, and temporal influences of predators, parasites and diseases.

4.     Ecosystem modeling to assess local and uplands land use and associated anthropogenic stressors (i.e., pollution), loss of wetlands and barrier islands (water quantity/retention), annual commercial harvesting effects, seasonal ecological influences (e.g., salinity, sedimentation, and symbionts), and climate-associated factors.

5.     Monitoring and forecasting oyster reef water quality.

6.     Restoration strategy evaluations, including stock assessment approaches and cost-benefit analyses of reef creation materials (cultch type) as they relate to oyster productivity, shell budget and reef persistence.

UM Approach.  The University of Mississippi will build upon our expertise in oceanographic and biological sensor development and analysis to address the question: What conditions are acceptable and unacceptable for oyster reef success?  Specifically, UM scientists will develop and deploy sensors (physical and biological) on existing oyster reefs (~ acceptable habitat), and sites of historic oyster reefs that are no longer alive (~ unacceptable habitat) to model potential oyster reef resilience and/or ideal restoration sites.  This research will have significant implications for our understanding of coastal GOM oyster reefs, and for restoration efforts proposed by the GORRC.  This approach incorporates aspects of the following specific research areas: 3) local-scale reef biological and ecological conditions, 4) modeling of anthropogenic stressors, 5) monitoring and forecasting oyster reef water quality, and 6) restoration strategy evaluations.  We expect to coordinate these activities with scientists at USM, MSU, and JSU as they tackle issue such as benthic habitat mapping and hydrological monitoring and modeling.

The UM research approach will necessitate an integrated multi-disciplinary approach inclusive of two or more investigators.  Thus, a single PI will be identified and that individual will be responsible for developing a multi-investigator proposal, and ultimately for leading the research team in fieldwork, data analysis, and reporting.  This individual will also, to the extent possible, be responsible for coordinating activities and/or research outcomes with USM, MSU, and JSU.

Letters of Intent.  We expect a limited submission RFP on Oyster Reefs to be issued by MBRACE within the next few months.  UM personnel whose research fits within the UM Approach (outlined above) and would like to be considered for inclusion in UM’s one proposal submission to the MBRACE RFP are invited to submit a ONE PAGE letter of intent as soon as possible, but no later than 3/10/17.  The letter should be submitted to the competition “Oyster Reef Research Plan” on the Ole Miss InfoReady Review Portal at https://olemiss.infoready4.com, and should: 1) outline your anticipated research [~ half page], 2) identify which specific research areas (above) would be addressed and how, and 3) provide a rough budget of direct costs for one year.