In addition to their direct harvest value, oysters build intricate vertical reefs that provide essential habitat for a number of commercial and recreational fishery species. Species ranging from blue crab to flounder to sheepshead and more, have been observed on oyster reefs at some stage of their life cycle.
Another benefit of oysters are their filtering capacity. An individual oyster can filter plankton, fertilizer runoff, and other pollutants from as much as 50 gallons of water per day, providing an enormous benefit to coastal waters. Before suffering massive declines, the oysters in the Chesapeake could likely filter the entire volume of the Bay once a week.
In the last two centuries, as much as 85% of all oyster reefs globally have been lost, making oyster reefs among the most threatened habitats in the world. A combination of overfishing, habitat destruction, introduced diseases, and water quality degradation have conspired to significantly impact this vital resource. While the current status of oyster reefs is dire, many agencies are making efforts to address water quality and recreate habitat by recycling used oyster shells to create new substrate for wild juvenile oysters to attach to. Commercial oyster growers are also helping boost populations by seeding privately leased oyster beds with hatchery-grown juvenile oysters (called "spat.")
The Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) has kept records on harvest from both public oyster reefs that have been replenished with shell and privately-leased oyster reefs that have been replenished with both shell and juvenile oysters. Using the Harvest Data sheet below, graph landing trends for both public and private harvest then answer the questions below.
The Incredible Oyster Reef (10 minutes)
Celia Cackowski, Virginia Sea Grant, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
landings, yield, public harvest, private harvest, MSX, Dermo, salinity
Natl. Science Standards
MS-ESS3-3 HS-LS2-7 HS-ESS3-4 HS-ETS1-1
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