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About the Oyster

HISTORY OF OYSTERS IN THE HUDSON-RARITAN ESTUARY

Oyster_Shuckers_wWhen Henry Hudson first explored our region in 1609, oyster reefs covered 350 square miles of Estuary, from Sandy Hook north to Ossining on the Hudson, to Raritan Bay, the Navesink and Shrewsbury Rivers, the Arthur Kill and Newark Bay. Up until 1900, these tasty bivalves also supported an extensive commercial fishery that kept much of the New York and New Jersey metro area populace fed with oysters.

Like coral reefs, these oyster reefs provided habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish, such as striped bass and flounder and for many other marine organisms. Oysters also clean their ecosystem, acting as a natural water filter. As they feed they remove suspended sediments and algae, improving water clarity and enhancing conditions for underwater grasses to grow.

Unfortunately, the oyster population fell dramatically after 1900, due to over-harvesting, pollution, disease, and siltation. As the thousands of oysters placed by Baykeeper on newly created beds begin to naturally reproduce, it is hoped that the Hudson-Raritan Estuary will see this keystone species fully restored, allowing Estuary health to dramatically improve.

ECOLOGICAL IMPORTANCE OF OYSTER REEFS

handsOysters are considered to be a Keystone Species. A keystone species has a disproportionate affect on its environment relative to its abundance; this means this type of species can affect many other organisms in an ecosystem and help to determine the types and numbers of various others species in a community. Oysters have two major functions in the ecosystem that make them so important:

Oysters are filter-feeders: They remove nutrients, algae, plankton, and/or pollutants from the water column, which contributes to cleaner, clearer water. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 GALLONS of water PER DAY! So, a large population of oysters can have a majorly positive impact on water quality. Cleaning up the water in our estuary is an obvious positive change for humans, but it can also help to support the growth of other marine ecosystems that rely on light from the sun, like seagrass beds and other plant life.

Oysters are the only bivalves that build a reef: Natural oyster reefs are built by larval oysters attaching to adult live or dead oysters and creating a vertical structure into the water column. This function is important for several reasons: A reef structure provides habitat for many other marine organism. All over the reef there are lots of little nooks and crannies (aka interstitial spaces) where small fish, crabs, snails, shrimp, anemones, other bivalves, and other organisms can hang out and live. This increases the species richness and biodiversity of the region.

Furthermore, an increase in biodiversity in an area helps to support a diverse food web; just having all those little organisms around provides food for medium sized fish and then larger fish (recreationally and/or commercially viable species) will be in the area too. This is an economic and tourism benefit!

Oyster reefs can also provide shoreline protection if they are large enough to break up heavy wave action on a shoreline. This is one of the reasons they build them in Florida and some parts of the Gulf of Mexico, especially where they are trying to restore mangrove
forests.