A two-year investigation is pointing a finger at rare algae bloom on the Skidaway River as the cause for a crop loss inside Georgia’s only oyster hatchery. 

The University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography houses tanks where oyster larvae are researched and hatched.

But in 2017, thousands died in their tanks overnight following a water change. That water had been filtered and the Skidaway River was the source.

By chance, another team of scientists took a water test that day unrelated to the larvae kill. This is what led scientists to discover that the deaths were caused by an unlikely algae bloom.

“What we didn’t know is that it could create these blooms and it could get very dense,” said Elizabeth Harvey, Assistant Professor at the institute. “We didn’t know that it had this negative impact on shellfish.”

While researchers are fairly certain they have found the source of the problem, they are still unclear how the algae are harming the oyster larvae, and, more importantly, how to prevent it in the future.

“The hatchery is where the seed is produced that drives the industry. If we are not producing the seed, then there’s no oysters to put out for aquaculture purposes,” said Tom Bliss, Lab Director at the Shellfish Research Laboratory on Skidaway.

Harvey and Bliss plan to keep researching the issue.

They do note that the oysters are safe to consume. Harvey says the algae isn’t harmful to people who eat the oysters that have digested it.