GALES CREEK, CARTERET COUNTY - Every year the Department of Marine Fisheries does a sweep of local waterways picking up hundreds of broken and abandoned crab pots. Scientists at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Carteret County are recycling those pots to recreate reefs. They are using these reefs to conduct a study on oyster growth. Preliminary checks on the reefs show that their theory of moving the pots upstream over a course of months greatly increases oyster growth.
These new reefs have been placed in several local waterways. In the study some pots are moved over a course of months from salty water to fresher water. Others are not moved for the same period of time. When comparing the pots that are moved with the ones that were not, the early results are incredibly visible. The mobile pots are stocked full of oysters whereas the ones left untouched have far fewer oysters.
Professor at UNC Institute of Marine Sciences Dr. Niels Lindquist says they move the pots strategically. They start the pots in some of the saltiest waters of a creek, where baby oysters have spawned.
"We started our pots at the bottom of the creek where you get more larvae settling on your pot." said Lindquist.
Once the pots (which are covered in concrete to encourage oysters to attach to it) is loaded with larvae, they are moved upstream to a spot that is less salty. A few months later, they are moved again, nearer to the mouth of a creek where the water is much fresher.
The reason scientists are moving the pots to fresher water over time is because fewer predators are likely to attack the reefs in the water that is less salty. So far, their study is proving to be a huge success.
While these reefs are in the water, oysters are also naturally cleaning it. Pots for the study have been placed in Gale Creek, Broad Creek, Gales, Spooners Creek, Pelitier Creek, Town Creek, tusk Creek, and Oyster Creek. Some of these areas are closed due to water quality issues. Oysters naturally clean water, and could benefit those areas while the study continues.
UNC Institute of Marine Sciences Professor Dr. Joel Fodrie says the pots are also beneficial to other marine life.
"We've amended the pots so things can move in and move out and they've effectively become mini-reefs. At times here at this spot at Gales Creek we've seen Grey Snapper and Speckled Trout inside the crab pots using the crab pots as habitat." said Fodrie.
Local fisherman have also been helping the scientists like David "Clammerhead" Cessna. Both he and the scientists have been working together to learn more about the oysters and improve their studies.