| By Alyssa Martinez
Oysters are a type of mollusk with a rough exterior that are typically found clinging onto sturdy substrates like shipwrecks or debris. They are valuable species to shallow waters and reefs. Oysters are considered a keystone species in the Indian River Lagoon in Melbourne Beach, Florida.
Oysters provide many benefits to local ecosystems such as:
Oysters are filter feeders which means they consume free-floating algae and in doing so they improve the surrounding water quality. “A single oyster filters up to 50 gallons of water per day.” 
As oysters develop over time, they begin to overlap one another forming little crevices that provide refuge and food to smaller species such as anchovies, stone crabs, and shrimp. By creating a reef filled with all sorts of species, the ecosystem can thrive to its fullest potential.
Oysters protect underwater vegetation and marine communities by stabilizing the ocean floor. “Healthy reefs and established vegetation protect valuable habitat, reduce wave energy preventing erosion, and fortify wetlands as a protective barrier.” 
Unfortunately, Oyster populations have been declining due to numerous reasons including:
Dr. Linda Walters from the UCF Biology department held an oyster mat workshop at UCF on May 21st, 2019. Volunteers joined in to create oyster mats to increase the conservation of oysters in our water systems. Their goal is to conserve oyster reefs in the Indian River Lagoon that have been severely damaged over the last 20 years.
Dr. Walters is testing out a new biodegradable material made out of potato chip waste and comparing it to traditional aquaculture mesh. With 300 mats of each type of material being placed in 2 separate reefs in the lagoon, Dr. Walters wants to detect how long can the material hold and if oysters enjoy settling on material like this.
The project expects in 3 months to discover whether this new material holds up and in 1-2 years whether the new mats attract as many oysters compared to the amount found naturally in the lagoon.
IDEAS For Us teamed up with Tampa Bay Watch to help with an oyster dome building event on March 29, 2019.
Tampa Bay Watch gave a tour of their operations and instructed the volunteers on how to build these domes. With marine-friendly cement and fiberglass molds, the volunteers were able to make these dome-like structures that will be placed along the bay to attract baby oysters.
These domes are a perfect substrate for oysters to attach themselves to it and where they will remain their whole lifetime. Since oysters are filter feeders, they are helping the Tampa Bay community by reducing the amount of pollution, algae, and microplastics in the water. Through the process of cleaning the water, oysters allow for other species, that cannot survive in polluted waters, to thrive in the same area creating a bountiful ecosystem.
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