The United States has seen a steady decline of the oyster populations all around the country. This situation has ignited a number of oyster restoration projects in coastal regions from various conservation groups and organizations.
Initially, the oyster colonies in states such as New Jersey were so abundant and formed piles so high, that their locations were marked on maps so boats would avoid being run aground on them. They oyster colonies, just as almost every good thing, didn’t last long. Overharvesting, pollution, disease and rampant development of coastal regions has led to a dwindling oyster population over the centuries. Researchers estimate that their current levels are 85 percent lower than what they used to be in the 1800s.
In the face of this oyster crisis, a number of restoration projects have risen to solve it, by establishing new oyster colonies and fortify those that are struggling to maintain their current levels of population. Most projects are small in scale but grand in scope. Their main unified goal is to prove that oyster populations can be restored in the wild with human help or at least without human interference.
The oyster’s main use is as a food resource, and their capture can offer lucrative job opportunities for workers in coastal cities. Beyond just being roasted for dinner, healthy and abundant oyster colonies have other benefits. They are able to improve water quality, a single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. Also, they can protect coastlines as irregular oyster beds are able to serve as speed bumps.
As of yet, most of the oyster restoration projects are funded through donations and government grants. Many researchers working on these projects, such as Helen Henderson, of New Jersey’s American Litoral Society, are hoping that the success of a few projects in restoring oyster populations will lead to increased funding for bigger projects.
“Nature has shown us this can be done; we’re just giving it a kick-start. Hopefully, funding will flow from that once we can show successful outcomes, and we can really make a difference on a much larger scale.”
The oyster restoration projects use different types of measures and solutions to increase the populations. One of the most common is to dump shells in the sea, where free-floating oyster seeds can attach to them. Other projects are transporting mature oysters from one healthy colony to another colony in decline.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, in 2014, almost 36 million pounds of oysters worth $250 million were produced in the US.
What do you think about these types of oyster restoration projects? How often if at all do you consume oysters?
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