The Humble Hero: Oysters’ Surprising Role in a Delicate Balancing Act

(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.)

 

It is becoming increasingly apparent how important the tiny oyster is to the health of our oceans. If you didn’t get a chance to check out this video we posted a while back, it’s worth a watch.
As filter-feeders, oysters spend most of their lives absorbing the water around them and processing the tiny particulates through their highly evolved systems. Some of these particles are tiny planktons and algae that are used as food and energy for the oyster, and minerals are used to produce nacre to layer onto the oyster’s shells (and create pearls!).

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key·stone spe·cies
noun
1. a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically.

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One remarkable byproduct of this process is that through the filtration process, oysters actually manage to remove toxins such as mercury and pesticides from the water–storing them neatly away within the layers of shell that make up their homes. In fact, oysters are so efficient at this technique that in some regions, it is not recommended to consume them during periods of the year when toxic algaes are in bloom or when large quantities of pesticides from agriculture are expected in runoff from nearby areas.
Their ability to filter is not their only virtue however, as they also act as a valuable food source for birds and other ocean-dwelling animals who give their lives in turn to larger predators in the food chain. The humble oyster forms an important nutritional foundation for much of the ocean’s wildlife. These gifted little creatures are so important to our waterways that should they disappear entirely, the entire marine ecosystem would come under threat of collapse.

 


Not bad for a bivalve!

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