Oysters have long been regarded as an aphrodisiac, a healthy source of protein and minerals, and the bearer of one of our beloved luxury items, the pearl, but they are also a powerful component of the ecosystem and protector of coastlines. This slippery, salty, shellfish is a natural ocean filter that cleans pollutants out of the seawater and creates essential habitats for other marine life. For all its amazing functions, oyster colonies may actually be the best solution to thwart coastal flooding.
Scientific researchers conducted a study to measure the growth of oyster colonies using reefs along the North Carolina coast. Based on their findings they determined that every four years reefs made up of oyster colonies could potentially double in size. This rapid growth suggests that these reefs could prevent rising sea levels from encroaching on the shorelines because they are capable of expanding at the same rate that sea rises. Although only 15 percent of the world’s natural oyster reefs remain as a result of pollution and coastal development, conservationists and communities are working together to restore them.
In an effort to maintain our shoreline coastal communities have relied on artificial stabilization methods that involve transporting dry land sediments containing similar compounds found in marine sediment to receding shores. Unfortunately as the law of unintended consequences suggests, artificial restoration has yielded a few problems. According to a study conducted by NOAA and Duke University, artificially restored beaches erode faster than natural shorelines and can drastically change the landscape of the sea floor creating steep ledges and drop offs that impact marine life. Since oyster colonies expand naturally over time, the changes are gradual and reduce potentially negative side effects. It is important to note however, that artificial offshore reefs do have their place as well. They appear to be of greater value to sea creatures and humans alike than ones along the coast.
As with most flora and fauna, oysters will thrive in some areas better than others. Deep water isn’t conducive to cultivating a healthy colony because it lacks the ebon flow of the ocean tides. They flourish in places where they are immersed during high tide and open to the elements during low tide. It is here that they can feast upon nutrient rich algae and plankton, the same elements that make them a very healthy food source for us. Oysters contain high amounts of both calcium and iron as a result of this particular diet.
So the next time you indulge yourself in this tasty, healthful, seafood delicacy, raise your glass and toast to one of the most versatile ocean-dwelling creatures on our planet. Natural oyster reefs could give coastal communities a better chance of staving off erosion and maintaining natural marine habitats. That means more oysters on your plate!
At Billy’s, we make it our business to stay informed of the issues that impact our community and the customers we serve. As always, we urge everyone to get out and get involved!
Got a craving for some of your favorite seafood? Come on in and see us!