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Environ Manage. 2013 Oct;52(4):981-94. doi: 10.1007/s00267-013-0136-3. Epub 2013 Aug 7.

Simulation of potential oyster density with variable freshwater inflow (1965-2000) to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary, southwest Florida, USA.

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  • 1Coastal Ecosystems Section, Applied Sciences Bureau, South Florida Water Management District, 3301 Gun Club Rd., West Palm Beach, FL, 33406, USA,


Oyster beds are disappearing worldwide through a combination of over-harvesting, diseases, and salinity alterations in the coastal zone. Sensitivity of oysters to variable discharge and salinity is particularly acute in small sub-tropical estuaries subject to regulated freshwater releases. South Florida has sub-tropical estuaries where watershed flood control sometimes results in excessive freshwater inflow to estuaries during the wet season (May-Oct) and reduced discharge and increased salinities in the dry season (Nov-Apr). The potential to reserve freshwater accumulated during the wet season could offer the capacity to regulate freshwater at different temporal scales, thus optimizing salinity conditions for estuarine biota. The goal of this study was to use simulation modeling to explore the effects of freshwater inflows and salinity on adult oyster survival in the Caloosahatchee River Estuary (CRE) in southwest Florida. Water managers derived three different freshwater inflow scenarios for the CRE based on historical and modified watershed attributes for the time period of 1965-2000. Three different salinity time series were generated from the inflow scenarios at each of three sites in the lower CRE and used to conduct nine different oyster simulations. Overall, the predicted densities of adult oysters in the upstream site were 3-4 times greater in seasons that experienced reduced freshwater inflow (e.g., increased salinity) with oyster density in the lower estuary much less influenced by the inflows. Potential storage of freshwater reduced the frequency of extreme flows in the wet season and helped to maintain minimum inflow in the dry season near the estuarine mouth. Analyses of inflows indicated that discharges ranging from 0 to 1,500 cfs could promote favorable salinities of 10-25 in the lower CRE depending on wet versus dry season climatic conditions. This range of inflows is similar to that derived in other studies of the CRE and emphasizes the value of simulation models to help prescribe freshwater releases which benefit estuarine biota.

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