Eat Oysters, Save the Planet
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Climate change affects us all, and we are responsible for doing our part to mitigate it. But as we emphasize with this blog, it does not all have to be work! For example, people love to eat, and in the last few years, people have embraced the oyster-foodie movement. If people understood that they were helping to sequester carbon with every oyster they ate, it might incentivize them to eat oysters more often.
Oysters are in decline across the globe and are almost gone in many ecosystems. Disease, decades of overharvesting, habitat destruction, and water pollution have all contributed to this phenomenon. As a result, marine scientists, policymakers, aqua-culturists, and conservationists have a sense of urgency to reverse this destruction and restore oyster reefs for ecological and economic reasons. In the last several years in Europe and North America, federal, tribal, state, and local government agencies; non-profit conservation organizations; academic institutions; and commercial enterprises have made great efforts to restore the oyster populations. In Europe, it directly supports objectives defined by the following: the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, the EU Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC), and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Directive 2008/56/EC).
Do you know how oysters support their environment and mitigate climate change?
Oysters clean as much as 190 liters (50 gallons) of water per day which is especially relevant for nitrogen removal to prevent eutrophication (the promotion of algae and other plant growth which takes oxygen from the water).
Oyster reefs provide essential habitat for countless other types of marine flora and fauna.
Oyster shells sequester carbon, with studies showing they can permanently sequester as much as 12g (0.02 lbs) for every 100g (0.2 lbs) of shells.
Oysters contribute to storm surge absorption – through their vertical reefs, they can absorb as much as a foot of tidal storm surge.
The Advantage of Aquaculture
With the increasing demand for seafood and the dramatic drop in wildlife fisheries stock, aquaculture offers a solution for providing marine protein to the market. Oyster aquaculture, in particular, is a logical solution as vast swaths of marine space are available for oyster cultivation. Oysters cultivated through aquaculture have a “near zero input” product because once a farm is established, there are few inputs to grow oysters: no feed, fertilizer, pesticides, land, or even freshwater. Financially, they require minimal sustained costs, and environmentally, they do no harm. As noted by Steve Gaines, the dean of the School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “If you look at best aquaculture practices, there’s nothing comparable in terms of land-based meat production that has such a low level of environmental impacts.” Restaurants and fishmongers which sell oysters can claim they are helping the environment, incentivizing “green” conscious consumers to purchase from them. The business opportunities for oyster farming are abundant both from a traditional economic standpoint and for a green or 3P (People, Planet, Profits) business model.
Globally, carbon emissions must decrease as the ocean cannot continue to absorb carbon and other greenhouse gases (GHG) at its current rate. Our global climate crisis only accentuates the sense of urgency, and one way to contribute is to increase our oyster production and consumption.
So, what can you do? Eat and enjoy aqua-cultivated oysters! Discover their “merroir,” the flavor imparted by where they grow: salinity, minerals, and available food all affect an oyster's flavor. It's an adventure just to discover their essence.
And if you want to learn more about how to support organizations that are restoring oyster habitats, check out these institutions 👇🏾
In Europe: The Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA), an umbrella organization that aims to protect and restore the native European oyster, Ostrea edulis, and its habitat. They focus on responsible restoration practices and provide excellent resources on their website. For example, they have a children's Wild Oyster Education Program with lesson plans, worksheets, interactive games, etc., for scientists-in-development to enjoy. They also have plenty of outreach infographics that are helpful for visually explaining and understanding all the issues around oyster cultivation and restoration.
- The Chesapeake 10 Billion Oysters Partnership, which was launched with 30 non-profits, community organizations, and oyster growers working together to cultivate 10 billion oysters in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025 with the hope of restoring the Bay’s watershed. The partners have implemented many initiatives to ameliorate the Bay and its inhabitants, including partnering with restaurants to collect shells for cultivating more oysters.
- The Billion Oyster Project, a New York-based non-profit restoring oyster reefs to the New York Harbor through public education and partnerships. As with the Chesapeake Bay, many restaurants partner to supply their spent shells for new cultivation.
- Puget Sound Restoration Project is one of many organizations working on oyster and marine habitat restoration on the West Coast.