Oyster Reefs at Risk as Over Harvesting Continues


February 3, 2011 | Posted by: Amy Wermuth

Do you like oysters? It’s funny, when we asked people what they thought about eating oysters when investigating this article they said they either loved them or hated them – no “in between” here. They are packed with protein and are said to aid sexual drive, but do you know where they really come from and how they are processed? If you are at all curious about oysters – beyond the dinner plate or the bedroom, this is a bit of green news you will want to read.

A new report published in BioScience, states that nearly 85 percent of the planet’s oyster reefs have vanished since the late 19th century. In fact, many previously fruitful oyster reefs have been listed as “functionally extinct” due to overharvesting and other manmade reasons, not Mother Nature. The areas that have been widely affected by overharvesting are not just in the US. Two main areas are in the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and in the Wadden Sea in Northern Europe.

In fact, oyster reefs used to be the central eco-system in the planet’s temperate bays and estuaries. Since they have become overharvested by the practice of harsh dredging, pollution and the broadened stretch of disease by unnaturally introducing other non-native oyster species in oyster reefs, there is a huge impact that has lead to the alarming decline.

Oyster reefs used to be the “coral reefs” of bays and estuaries. When you consider that a whopping 85% of them are suffering, you can’t help but think of the impact this has on the environment and eco-systems at hand. As it stands now, nearly 75% of the planet’s enduring wild oyster reefs are only found in five remaining locations in North America. The amazing thing to mention from the report is that the Gulf of Mexico was the one area where oyster populations were deemed comparatively healthy.

The Gulf of Mexico is probably the last ideal area where there is still a chance for large-scale oyster reef conservation and sustainable fisheries.

Amazingly, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year did not drastically harm oyster reefs in that area. This could be, in part, due to fast action by Louisiana officials that immediately ordered the opening of massive valves on the nearby Mississippi River. This freshwater flushing technique removed oil build-up quickly from oyster reefs located in the marshes, killing off only a portion of reefs that lacked necessary salt content – but it saved a lot too.

Worth noting, even with the damage from the massive BP spill, the oyster reefs of the Gulf of Mexico are still the healthiest and most productive in the world. Sure does make you better understand the magnitude of damage caused from overharvesting oyster reefs doesn’t it?

Historically, oysters (typical oysters that is) were considered a low-cost food for the working class, but since there has become a massive decline, and reefs have relatively disappeared altogether, oysters have become a delicacy and pricy.

While the availability of oysters has declined harshly, worldwide demand for oysters remains high, putting increasing pressure on the world’s last wild oyster reefs.

Next time you're at your favorite restaurant and are Jonesin' for an aphrodisiac, think twice before eating oysters. It is worth your while to understand were the foods you eat come from exactly. How foods are cultivated, processed, and what the impact is when we overstep our boundaries to provide them.


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