(This post is part of our blog series that deals with Pearls International’s take on social and environmental responsibility. For more information on how Pearls International gives back, please click here.)
Among other grisly repercussions of the great oil spill of 2010, (which came to be known as the “Deepwater Horizon Spill”), hundreds of fragile oyster beds that thrived in the area have been severely disrupted. Why is this a problem? Simply put, oysters are a filter animal and are a natural and necessary part of the filtering that is required for the environments of our oceans, lakes and rivers. The talented animals can clean water like a pool vacuum cleans a pool. Filtering organic materials is their business – but understandably, the Deepwater Horizon Spill has proved too much for many of the oysters along the Gulf.
The damages to the Gulf oyster beds have threatened not only the oysters themselves, but myriad of businesses based on the oyster trade. The oldest oyster shucking operation in the United States, P&J Oyster Company of New Orleans was extremely impaired by the spill. It reported that the company still has not resumed shucking its own oysters after the spill, and the overall business is still only at 35 percent of original production figures.
That same year, Governor Bobby Jindall ordered freshwater to be pumped into the Mississippi river in order to try to flush out the oil that had seeped in. Though the freshwater pumping may have helped on some levels, the over-abundance of fresh water also adversely affected the oyster beds, because a subtle mixture of brackish water, both saltwater and fresh, is needed for the fragile oysters to thrive.
Dr. Tom Soniat, for over ten years a full-time Biology professor at Nicholls University and mussel specialist, stated that “the mortality rate [in the area] was up to 98 percent in some oyster beds.” At a 2 percent survival rate, this kind of depletion could quickly cause oysters to join the endangered species list. In addition, many other polluted areas which once supported thriving oyster beds are no longer producing at all.
Even though man-made problems can have a devastating effect on our oyster beds, man-made solutions may also help to mitigate the damages. Through thoughtful reef management, the oyster beds can improve and begin to thrive. One of the sustainable practices that helps to support the oyster growth is to plant “cultch.”
Cultch is nothing more than a mass of shells, pebbles and gravel. It is spread along on the bottom of the oyster habitat and provides a floor of sorts to which an oyster may attach itself with its tiny weed-like foot. It is a starting place for oysters to group together for protection and support and begin to form a colony.
Emily Bryce of The New York Times found that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife has an oyster cultch project in six large oyster habitats across Louisiana. She reports that “by simultaneously building hatcheries where oyster larvae are cultivated, the state hopes to seed the new reefs with generations of oysters that will build new fortresses.”
There is a silver lining to the Deepwater Horizon Spill – the increased environmental awareness in the Gulf area and knowledge of the obstacles the region faces has skyrocketed since the Spill, and has sent hundreds of agencies to the rescue, learning as they go, how to return to and keep the waters in their original state. That is a big win for our friends, the oysters.
Check out this blog over at HuffPo about other animals that have yet to recover from the spill.
See: Source: Bryce, Emily. A Multitude of Oysters? Looks Can Be Deceiving. The New York Times. 25 October, 2012.