Oysters for a Better Earth

We constantly sing the praises of oysters for their special flavor, which seems to differ powerfully even from one harbor to the next, but there is another reason that we celebrate this special bivalve. As we become more aware of the damage that years of overused resources and mismanaged industries have done to the planet, research on the use of oysters to remedy this damage makes the further development of this industry that much more important.
Many of us know that oysters are a cleanser species, meaning they filter water through their bodies (which is why it is so important to get your oysters from pristine areas, like the ACE Basin where we at St. Jude Farms choose to raise ours). What is it, however, that these oysters are able to filter, and why is it good for the environment? Here is an overview of the amazing abilities of these shellfish, and how they may bring about a solution to our water pollution problems.
Nitrogen Removal
Nutrient pollution (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) is one of our waterways’ greatest man-made challenges. An excess of these nutrients causes algae to bloom at a rate the ecosystem cannot manage, due to algae’s ability to absorb large amounts of oxygen from the water.

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Oysters feed on organic matter, such as tiny particles of algae and other phytoplankton, thus continuing to reduce the overall presence of algae in waterways. They also store the excess nitrogen from the water around them.
The oyster could provide a solution for water purification that is equally effective to water-treatment facilities, and at a much lower cost. Experiments by the Nature Conservancy Virginia Coast suggest that under the right conditions an acre of oysters removes 500 pounds of nitrogen from the water per year. As more and more communities are instructed to limit the amount of nitrogen that enters the water, oyster beds may prove to be both an ecological and cost-effective solution.
The Creation of Marine Habitat
Oyster beds can also help other marine animals to thrive. The shells and sediment from oysters creates a strong foundation on which other animals can make their homes. Creatures such as barnacles, mussels and anemones need a hard substrate on which to grow, such as the kind that oyster beds provide.

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Furthermore, fish and crabs use the oyster beds for protection from larger predators. Several fish use oyster shells as spawning grounds, using empty shells as spaces for their eggs, thus increasing the overall population.
On top of creating habitat for marine life, oyster beds help to prevent soil erosion by rising or shifting tides, which helps to preserve the habitats that already exist in the area.
Repopulating the seas with oysters creates a synergy of environmental and economic benefit. Scientists are finding more and more information on how oysters and other bivalves can benefit surrounding ecosystems. Simultaneously, The oyster industry is growing, and with that growth comes many jobs. In this time on the planet, the creation of jobs that do not harm, but rather help the environment is crucial if we are to continue to heal the earth from damage while providing for ourselves, our families and our communities.

(ALL RIGHTS) Hog Island, Virginia Coast Reserve © Hal Brindley.com

(ALL RIGHTS) Hog Island, Virginia Coast Reserve © Hal Brindley.com

In South Carolina, we have countless reasons to protect our water. The development of the oyster industry, and the environmental benefits that come with it, goes hand in hand with this imperative mission.