The oil spill continues to roil the Gulf ecosystem and economy
The idea was to push the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill back from coastal areas with torrents of fresh water by opening several Mississippi River diversions. Unfortunately, it appears that the strategy has been ineffective … and caused collateral damage to southeast Louisiana’s oyster beds that could result in oyster shortages for the next three years or more, reports Lafourche Parish’s Daily Comet.
Oysters are one of a few species that produce ecosystem infrastructure. The temperate zone equivalent of coral reefs, oyster reefs and beds were once a dominant structural and ecological component of estuaries around the world. Globally 85% of oyster reefs have been lost says this Nature Conservancy study.
Most of the world’s remaining wild capture of shellfish comes from five “ecoregions” on the East Coast of North America – with the North Gulf of Mexico region topping the list as a source and the only one of two (the other is the South Gulf) considered in “fair” condition, about as good as it gets for oyster reefs today. Which is why, according to a July 24 New York Times op-ed, the Gulf was considered the leading candidate for oyster reef restoration on a scale to support sustainable fishery. That was before the oil spill, when the political will to launch large-scale restoration was lacking. Post-spill, with the Gulf’s fair condition in jeopardy, the political will and the financial means (starting with BP’s deep pockets) may be at hand … or so the op-ed writers hope.
Ironically, another key requirement (after money) for reef restoration may soon be as scarce as hens’ teeth. As the Bay Daily notes, not only do most of the oysters packaged by Virginia and Maryland processers during the summer come from Louisiana, so do the empty oyster shells used to build new reefs in the much depleted Chesapeake Bay. The shells are also used to farm oysters in aquaculture operations. (And, speaking of hens, ground oyster shells are an ingredient of chicken feed.)
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