The University of Massachusetts Amherst

In Pictures

Shell Shocked: Revealing the Importance of Oyster Beds to Coastal Systems

The image above shows a house severely damaged by surging waves during Hurricane Sandy along New York’s outer harbor. A study led by UMass Amherst geoscientist Jonathan Woodruff (one of the world’s leading researchers on sediment records of extreme floods due to natural disasters) and doctoral student Christine Brandon is the first to link overharvesting and disturbance of ancient oyster beds by early colonists to the loss of natural coastal defenses against floods and storm waves. The research indicates that these beds once absorbed significant wave energy offshore before reaching the coast, and that this area of New York Harbor is now experiencing between 30 and 200 percent higher wave energy from extreme storms than in the distant past, partly due to the loss of these shellfish reefs. Learn more.

Image credit: Woodruff Research Group