AIRLIE’S RESEARCH REVEALS, SINCE THE EARLY 1900S,
North Carolina’s oyster population has declined roughly 90 percent due to disease,
habitat loss, pollution, declining water quality and harvest pressure.
Top: Alyssa Taylor, oyster steward, is the environmental
education program coordinator at Airlie Gardens.
Middle: Wading birds feed around the oyster beds in
Bradley Creek. Bottom: The North Carolina Coastal
Federation bags oyster shells to create reefs on which
new oysters grow.
WBM february 2019
PHOTOS BY ALLISON POTTER
N adult oyster has the ability to filter up to 50 gallons of water per
day while feeding,” Taylor says. “Often referred to as a ‘filter
species,’ they get this name by using their siphon to bring
water into their bodies, pass it over their gills and filter out
plankton to eat. In this process, oysters have the ability to help better our
overall water quality.”
Airlie’s research reveals, since the early 1900s, North Carolina’s oyster
population has declined roughly 90 percent due to disease, habitat loss, pol-lution,
declining water quality and harvest pressure.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association cites overharvesting
and poor harvest-ing
methods as a
primary cause of the
decline, along with
loss and a decrease
in water quality
because of pollution.
also say warming
waters increase the
adverse effects of
further sickening oysters and other filter-feeders. Eating local oysters,
even in “r” months as is the longstanding tradition, may no longer be safe.
Local, state and federal agencies, conservation groups, academics and other
researchers, and individual volunteers recognize the exigency of the oyster’s
current circumstance. They are working diligently to restore the health of the
native oyster population and enable it to prosper again.
“Local conservation efforts can be seen in a number of organizations
across our area ranging from state and local government to nonprofits,”
Taylor says. “These efforts include building reefs out of recycled oyster shells
to provide the hard substrate spat needed to grow.”
While the state no longer funds oyster shell recycling, a number of local
organizations have picked up the slack. Airlie Gardens joined forces with the
North Carolina Coastal Federation to place oyster shell drop-off bins, ensur-ing
stewardship at its simplest level.
Recycled oyster shells are returned to tidal creeks to form foundations
for new oyster reefs. These artificial reefs attract naturally occurring spat.
Supplementing the natural growth with aquaculture, also known as “maricul-ture,”
through oyster farming can significantly boost the growth and health
of our oyster population.
AS A SENTINEL SPECIES, OYSTERS
MIRROR THE LEVEL OF CONTAMINANTS
IN THE WATER
AND SURROUNDING SEDIMENTS,
REFLECTING THE CONTAMINANTS’
EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT.