Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question came from Soohyun, who wants to know: “What role might oysters play in the Bay’s future?”
Oysters are vital to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, but are in serious need of continued restoration to thrive. Oysters are extremely significant both economically and ecologically in the Chesapeake Bay region, but without effective management of the oyster fishery, the bivalve -- which is still at just 1 percent of historic levels -- will continue to suffer.
When populations are sufficient, oysters create reefs that can provide a large area of nooks and crevices for aquatic species. Oyster reefs can create 50 times the hard habitat surface area of a mudflat of the same size. Many Bay species, including sponges, sea squirts, and small crabs and fishes, need the hard surfaces provided by these oyster reefs to survive.
Another important function oysters play in the Bay ecosystem is their role as a filter feeder. Oysters pump large volumes of water through their gills to filter out plankton and other particles, including algae, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons per day.
Because of the importance of oysters, several organizations around the watershed are building artificial reefs from recycled oyster shells and other hard materials. Artificial reefs provide habitat that is similiar to natural oyster reefs, giving oyster spat (baby oysters) the hard surfaces they need to attach to and survive. Over time, it is expected that oysters will build up on the artificial reefs and create natural reefs.
There has also been a lot of focus on raising baby oysters in hatcheries, protecting existing oyster reefs as harvest-free "sanctuaries," and developing and promoting oyster aquaculture programs. Other projects, such as Marylanders Grow Oysters and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening, get citizens involved in restoring oysters.
The Bay's oyster population may never be as healthy as it once was, but with new and innovative restoration efforts taking place across the region, it seems like it will be possible for oysters to continue to be an important part of the Bay ecosystem for many years to come. If you’d like to help restore oysters, check out some ideas from the Oyster Recovery Partnership.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.