Did you know that the shelled mollusk has another incredible characteristic? Oysters are natural filters. They draw water in from their gills – trapping and consuming plankton and excessive nutrients, which improves the health of the water they inhabit. Oyster reefs also provide great habitat for other organisms; crabs and small fish can hide and live in the cracks and crevices of oyster reefs.
Oysters can filter 2 gallons of water an hour. The phytoplankton and excessive nutrients removed helps clarify the water which allows more sunlight through and promotes bay grass to grow. The bay grass, in turn, generates more oxygen in the water which improves the water quality for living organisms. More bay grass also means less wave energy pounding shorelines and increases habitat for other organisms.
The Chesapeake Bay is a body of water that used to have huge oyster populations. Throughout the years, the pollution added to the Bay along with a loss of habitat and disease has made the oyster population drop to dangerous lows. There are efforts being made to bolster the oyster population. More oysters in the bay means more oysters to filter pollution and more oysters the local watermen can harvest.
Major clean water initiatives like the recently-established Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” will help improve conditions for the oyster population and in turn help bolster the local economy that relies so heavily on tourism and people coming to enjoy the shelled delicacy of the bay. Here’s more on the “pollution diet.” Also check out the Oyster Recovery Partnership for more on this comeback effort .