Preserving the Environment

How the Oyster Is Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

April 11, 2014
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How the Oyster Is Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay
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Who would’ve guessed that dining on the briny delicacy is good for the environment?

If you ever stop by a seafood restaurant around the Chesapeake Bay, you might want to try out the local oysters. Eating them not only means a delicious meal for yourself, but more business for local oyster farms, too. Plus, you’ll be helping to clean up the polluted waters in the process.

Interestingly, Chesapeake oysters weren’t even on menus until recent years. As the global news agency AFP reports, these formerly abundant mollusks were nearly wiped out 20 years ago due to over-harvesting and pollution. As NPR puts it, by 1990, the bay’s oyster population dropped to a mere 1 percent of what it was in the early 20th century.

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However, in the last decade, oyster rescue programs have significantly brought back this local delicacy. (Note: It’s still nowhere near its historic numbers.) The AFP reports that the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) — a team of scientists, environmentalists, government groups and volunteers — has reintroduced 4.5 billion oysters to the waters over the last 10 years. Promisingly, the report found that these efforts have seriously paid off. Virginia collected 10,000 tons of oysters during the winter of 2012-13, which was double last year’s harvest and 20 times more than 15 years ago.

This is not only good news for shellfish lovers, but it’s wonderful news for the environment as well since these oysters are playing an important part in cleaning up the Chesapeake. How so? As Steve Allen, biologist and senior manager at ORP said, oysters are “the kidney of the bay.” An acre can filter 140 million gallons of water an hour, removing 3,000 pounds of nitrogen a year. AFP also mentions that oyster reefs provide habitats for other local (and delicious) sea life such as fish, mussels and blue crabs.

So what’s the bottom line? Slurp up!

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