Better Oysters for a Changing Ocean

Today most of the seafood people consume is produced by aquaculture. It is essential that aquaculture be sustainable as reliance on seafood farming increases. Our aquaculture research with Wrigley Marine Science Center focuses on improving shellfish lines that can thrive in a changing ocean, which is becoming warmer and more acidic.

The research is funded by the Waitt Foundation, which supports USC Wrigley Institute’s “Future of Food from the Sea Program” to promote sustainable shellfish production for the future. Research focuses on understanding how shellfish are responding to warmer, more acid waters, new disease patterns caused by these rapidly changing conditions.

The research involves new methods of selective breeding, tracking ocean temperatures and its decreasing pH, monitoring immerging shellfish disease patterns, and increasing frequency of algal blooms, in order to better understand the link between shellfish and the changing ocean. A research goal is to selectively breed new lines of shellfish resilient to these emerging environmental threats. These new mollusk strains can help the shellfish industry cope the future challenges they face.

Carlsbad Aquafarm has built a state-of-the art shellfish nursery to support the Wrigley Institute’s work. The nursery integrates an algae greenhouse with a heat exchanger, nano-bubble oxygen diffuser, variable speed pumps and automated controls to raise algae to feed young shellfish larvae in customized spat bottles, new floating nurseries, and longline, inter-tidal, self-tumbling grow-baskets that provide seed, juvenile and adult shellfish with habitat in the nutrient-rich grow waters of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

These innovations will help our research team breed and rear successive generations of shellfish, from which shellfish that express the desired traits that will be continuously selected for in developing elite broodstock to produce improved, more resilient shellfish seed to support the future shellfish industry.

The Future of Food from the Sea Program is an exciting opportunity for USC and the Carlsbad Aquafarm to influence the future success of the world’s sustainable shellfish aquaculture production. By partnering with USC, the Waitt Foundation, our farm will continue to play a meaningful and collaborative role in improving the future of shellfish production in the world’s changing coastal waters in the 21st century.

Copper in California Estuaries

Copper levels in California’s bays and estuaries exceed EPA mandated requirements. To lower levels of copper in the water column of California's estuaries, Carlsbad Aquafarm has developed a strategic plan to: 1) reduce copper in coastal waters by establishing oyster reefs in affected areas; 2) grow oysters suspended from piers; 3) reduce copper entering bays by placing oyster shells in storm drains; and 4) reduce copper entering bays from shipyards using oyster shells in oil and water catchment vaults.

Our plan is to mitigate sources of copper in coastal waters, which include: 1) copper leaching from anti-biofouling marine paints; 2) copper contamination from storm water runoff carrying copper from brake linings and insecticides; and 3) copper entering the water column from boat hull cleaning. Our plan uses oysters as "copper filters" suspended below piers. The oysters remove copper from seawater through the natural process of adsorption, in which copper molecules in the water column are bound on oyster shells.

Oysters filter and metabolize the plankton as food and filter suspended microscopic particulates, including free copper. Once the copper enters the oyster, it accumulates and remains trapped in the oyster. Oyster shells bind free copper from the water column whether the oyster is alive or dead, through a chemical process called ionic exchange that replaces a calcium ion that is part of oysters’ calcium carbonate shells. By cultivating millions of live oyster in bays, oysters serve as a natural, copper sink that filter seawater through their tissue, permanently trapping copper and lowering the elevated levels of copper from California's bays.

Play the video to see more of how we work