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Oil Spill Threatens Gulf Oysters, May Impact Seafood Worldwide

Oil Spill Threatens Gulf Oysters, May Impact Seafood Worldwide

One year ago, in May 2009, the Nature Conservancy released a startling report on the status of the worlds’ oyster reefs. Based on data compiled from several scientific studies and surveys, and analyzed by a group of scientists from several countries, the report found that 85 percent of oyster reefs worldwide had been destroyed. 

Low in saturated fat, but high in protein, iron, Vitamin D, and healthful omega-3 fatty acids, oysters have long been considered a healthy delicacy by seafood connoisseurs. (In fact, as a vegetarian myself, I’ll readily admit that oysters are one of the few things I really miss.)

But oysters are so much more than a tasty, nutritious meal. As a vital part of the Earth’s ocean ecosystem, oysters serve as efficient water filters, removing excess nutrients and sediment from their surroundings, which helps prevent dangerous algal blooms. And oyster reefs, just like their better-publicized neighbors, coral reefs, create safe habitats and breeding grounds for many species of small fish by providing shelter from rough seas and places to hide from predators. Many other types of seafood depend on the oysters to maintain a healthy population.

Water pollution, unsustainable fishing practices like deep-sea bottom trawling, and ocean acidification due to global climate change has taken an enormous toll on oyster reefs, threatening to unbalance the delicate ocean ecosystems that depend on them — which, in turn, threatens the world’s supply of food from the sea.

Until recently, scientists had hoped that they might be able to rescue some of the damaged and dying oyster reefs around the world by reseeding them with oyster larvae from a healthy source. And one of the last remaining places in the world with more than half its oyster reefs still intact — the Gulf of Mexico.

But those oyster reefs are currently in the path of vast plumes of potentially toxic oil from the April explosion of a British Petroleum offshore oil drilling rig and the resultant massive oil spill

No one knows yet exactly how the spill will affect the Gulf’s oysters. Adult oysters’ ability to filter toxins may well protect them to a degree from the petrochemicals and potentially toxic minerals that the oil spill contains. But oyster larvae may well be killed in large numbers by the spill. And the chemical dispersants currently being used to break up the oil in the spill have not been thoroughly evaluated for their long-term effects on sea life. And no one really knows whether oysters that have survived filtering large amounts of oil and oil dispersants will be safe to eat.

Several oyster fisheries have filed a class action lawsuit against BP to try to recover what they anticipate could be millions of dollars worth of lost revenue. But as a nation, as a planet, we may lose much more in this spill than fishing jobs and easy access to all-you-can-eat oyster platters.

If the oyster reefs in the Gulf are severely damaged by this oil spill, we may well lose one of our last best chances to preserve the Earth’s oceans as we currently know them. And that is the sort of loss that I do not believe can be valued in dollars and cents.

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Image - detail of Oysters by Eduard Manet, public domain

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116 comments

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6:41PM PDT on Jul 13, 2010

thanks.

9:36PM PDT on Jul 10, 2010

thanks for shareing

12:30AM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

thanks

2:46PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

I'm gonna enjoy sushi whilst I can! ;)

9:40AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

" Water pollution, unsustainable fishing practices like deep-sea bottom trawling, and ocean acidification due to global climate change has taken an enormous toll on oyster reefs, threatening to unbalance the delicate ocean ecosystems that depend on them -- which, in turn, threatens the world's supply of food from the sea."

I'm always and more concerned about the health and prosperity of ecosystems and wildlife themselves---rather than the food people get from them. For the latter ALWAYS has somebody fighting for them, the former don't.

7:32AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Thanks noted .

6:20AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Obama should not be given the blame for this oil fiasco, it does deservedly go to Bush and Cheney who made the secret deals and were totally lax in the supervisiory regulations which were not in place. Obama has inherited more mess from Bush, when does it all end? What is the next mess? We need to pay more attention to who we elect for president. I think Bush has caused more harm than any other president in history. Everything can be traced to Bush, the economy, wars which have financially devastated this country and now BP oil spill.

6:16AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

awful truth and very regrettable, BP will do more damage for decades to the oyster, shrimp and all sealife. This should have been strictly monitored from the beginning. I blame many past adminisrations, particularly Bush when Cheney did all those secret oil deals with the oil companies. What really happened in those meetings? I think we all know now.

6:10AM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

ty

4:10AM PDT on Jun 5, 2010

thanks for the information

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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