Oysters get even better in cooler weather

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 09:35 AM.

The oyster reef becomes a habitat for other sea life and as more larval oysters attach and grow, the oyster reef becomes an oasis of solid substrate in the middle of a muddy plain that would be otherwise unsuitable for other species that also require a solid base for attachment. Some examples of other organisms that inhabit an oyster bar include the stone crab (Menippe mercenaria), barnacles (Balanus spp.), the Atlantic slipper shell (Crepidula fornicata), anemones, serpulid worms, and the hooked mussel (Brachidontes reourus). Doubtless as you dined on a platter of raw oysters, you have noticed a tiny mussel or two still attached to an oyster shell. All this life on the oyster reef attracts fish that come to pick off a tasty crab or worm, and bigger fish to feed on the smaller fish. In this way, an oyster bar increases the richness and diversity of life in a bay.

The oyster reefs also alter the flushing rates and sediment transport out of the marshes and estuaries. Without the oysters to impede the flow, currents pull valuable nutrients away. In studies at the University of Georgia’s Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, it was found that more than eight tons of sediment can be dropped by an acre of oysters in just 11 days. The nutrients that the oysters concentrate are returned to the bays by the animals that seek refuge and feed on the detritus around the oyster bars.

Whether you love the unique taste of oysters in your Thanksgiving dressing or never touch the animal, there are oyster bars that are important to you. They are the oyster bars in the neighboring bays and they are an important part of the whole system that brings seafood to your table and clean water to your beaches.Although our oysters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts do not produce pearls like the Pacific oyster, the importance of oysters to the health of the sea is more valuable than pearls are to queens.

Tom Baird has been a fisheries biologist, high school and community college teacher (oceanography and microbiology), director of a science and environmental center, teacher of science and principal in Pinellas County as well as an educational consultant. He retired from the Florida Department of Education and he and his wife divide their time between Tallahassee and Cape San Blas.

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