Bringing wild oysters back
Tue, Nov 29 2011 at 11:00 AM
By The Nature Conservancy
Rhode Island’s first colonists would be shocked to see today’s coast: Once vast oyster beds are gone from our waters. In the years since native Americans and colonists lived along the coast, overharvesting, pollution, sedimentation and disease have taken their toll on abundant wild oyster populations in Rhode Island and all over the world.
According to a new report on the state of shellfish reefs globally, Marine Conservation: Shellfish Reefs at Risk, more than 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost, and remaining reefs are at less than 10 percent of their original abundance. This puts oyster beds among the world’s most endangered marine habitat.
Oysters are “keystone” species of temperate estuaries like those in Rhode Island. Oyster beds provide nursery habitat for other shellfish and fish. Oysters also provide protection against shoreline erosion, and act as natural water filters for plants, animals and people.
Oysters gone wild
The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island is teaming up with scientists, state agencies, shellfish processors and oyster bars to bring wild oysters back to the Ocean State with a new project called “Oysters Gone Wild.” In the last decade significant efforts have been made by many organizations to plant hatchery reared adult oysters in Rhode Island waters in order to restore populations of reproducing oysters. The Conservancy believes that thanks to the successes of these efforts the time is now right to attempt to restore suitable substrate in estuaries, in this case large volumes of shells or what is known as "cultch," for young oysters to settle on. Conservancy scientists are collecting recycled shell from oyster bars and shellfish processors and conducting field research to build an artificial reef in a Rhode Island estuary, building habitat for oysters and encouraging a resurgent wild population.
Each year Rhode Islanders eat about 5.5 million oysters, sending more than a million pounds of oyster shell to landfills. Oysters Gone Wild captures some of that valuable resource before it makes it to landfills by partnering with oyster bars to recycle their shell back into the natural system of estuaries. Using these shells and an army of volunteers, we will construct an artificial oyster bed in a Rhode Island estuary to encourage settlement and survival of wild oyster larvae. Eating locally grown, farmed oysters at a participating restaurant is an easy and delicious way to help your environment.
Oysters Gone Wild has received funding through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-based Restoration Program. In a National Partnership between the NOAA Restoration Center and The Nature Conservancy, Oysters Gone Wild will represent a part of TNC’s larger Global Marine Initiative to create healthy oceans for people and nature.
The Nature Conservancy is working in estuaries across the country to encourage the growth of wild oysters reefs for habitat, shoreline protection, and to improve water quality. See our work in and along the southern Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico: The Nature Conservancy's Oyster Reef Restoration: Southern Solutions for a Global Problem.
Shellfish Restoration Network
Oyster and shellfish restoration is happening all over the country. In order to keep up to date on the latest scientific and technological developments in this work, The Nature Conservancy organized a Shellfish Restoration Network to connect practitioners across the country, enabling them to share stories and develop best practices for restoration. Learn more about our Network, and the places members work, by downloading (Marine Initiative)Shellfish Conservation & Restoration.
This report was prepared by The Nature Conservancy under award NA10NMF4630081 from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
Photo: An artificial oyster reef on the coast of North Carolina. USFWS/Flickr