The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth was awarded $525,967 by the Environmental Protection Agency to study how effective oysters are when it comes to cleaning local waterways.

Dr. Brian Howes, of the School for Marine Science and Technology's Coastal Systems Program told WBSM News that the funds will be used to study whether the development of oyster clusters the Westport River and Cockeast Pond can reduce nitrogen levels in those waterways.

"More and more municipalities are stepping up to do this, but there's no real good information on how effectiveit is," said Howes "so EPA decided it would do this to figure out what the real removal efficiencies and how this process works before it got too far down the road."

Howes says that although oysters appear to be the most cost effective option all shellfish have natural processes that make them a virtual filtration system.

"Shellfish are like little biological machines that filter particles out of the water at very small size, they'll pretty much clarify the water," said Howes "and then what they do is if there's anything in there they can eat, they will eat it and then excrete it through the digestive system."

Howes, says that what they can't digest they package and send down to the bottom leaving only a fraction of the original nitrogen in the water.

If this proves to be effective, Howes says it could become a far more affordable option for many communities that are struggling to find ways to deal with more affordable ways to deal with the high costs of water filtration.

"Wastwater treatment plants, pumps, and pipes are very expensive, it works, but it's very expensive," said Howes "and so the university has been working very hard on a number of very non-traditional solutions, such as shellfish in this case."

The project is expected to last four years and is being funded through the EPA's Southeast New England Program.

In addition the school has partnered with the Westport River Watershed Alliance to complete the project.