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Oysters at the edge of calamity

 Posted by on June 1, 2009
Jun 012009

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

The world is not our oyster. At least, not according to The Nature Conservancy, which presented a pioneering survey on the state of global shellfish to the International Marine Conservation Congress in Washington, DC in late May that uncovered some startling statistics.

Conducted by Nature Conservancy scientists from five continents over a five-year period, the first-ever report states that 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs have disappeared over the last 150-odd years, largely due to over-harvesting, poor water quality and degraded environments. The complex habitats, also called oyster beds by some, are vital to the world’s bays and estuaries. And as go the reefs, the report warns, so, potentially, go much larger, interlocking marine ecosystems.

“One third of the places that we looked at globally were functionally extinct,” lead author Mike Beck, senior scientist for the Conservancy’s Marine Initiative, told GreenRightNow. “That means they had less than 1 percent remaining of the former habitat, as best as we could tell. That occurs on every continent except Antarctica – where oysters don’t occur.”

He explained that European coasts once thrived with oyster reefs, and even the once legendary fisheries of America’s West Coast are in dire straits.

“Now, there’s virtually nothing left in all of Europe. We’ve also seen extraordinary declines in the Northwest and Chesapeake – and we’ve almost forgotten (laymen, not scientists) that there used to be a native Olympia Oyster out there, from British Columbia to Mexico. The San Francisco Bay used to be full of them,” Beck said, pointing out that one famous American writer made a few bucks off the Golden Gate’s oyster trade, in more ways than one.