Role and Value of Nitrogen Regulation Provided by Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) in the Mission-Aransas Estuary, Texas, USA
Pollack, Jennifer Beseres
Montagna, Paul A.
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Suspension-feeding activities of oysters impart a potentially significant benefit to estuarine ecosystems via reduction of water column nutrients, plankton and seston biomass, and primary productivity which can have a significant impact on human well-being. This study considered nitrogen regulation by eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica in the Mission-Aransas Estuary, Texas, USA, as a function of denitrification, burial, and physical transport from the system via harvest. Oyster reefs were estimated to remove 502.5 kg N km−2 through denitrification of biodeposits and 251.3 kg N km−2 in burial of biodeposits to sediments. Nitrogen is also physically transported out of the estuary via harvest of oysters. Commercial harvest of oysters in the Mission-Aransas Estuary can remove approximately 21,665 kg N per year via physical transport from the system. We developed a transferable method to value the service of nitrogen regulation by oysters, where the potential cost equivalent value of nitrogen regulation is quantified via cost estimates for a constructed biological nutrient removal (BNR) supplement to a wastewater treatment plant. The potential annual engineered cost equivalent of the service of nitrogen regulation and removal provided by reefs in the Mission-Aransas Estuary is $293,993 yr−1. Monetizing ecosystem services can help increase awareness at the stakeholder level of the importance of oysters beyond commercial fishery values alone.