According to piece of news released this month in Washington, a survey of oyster habitats around the world found that the succulent mollusks are disappearing fast and 85 percent of their natural reefs have been lost due to disease and over-harvesting.
The most imperiled marine habitat on Earth is not coral reefs or mangrove forests. Its indeed shellfish reefs. Oyster reefs are considered as functionally extinct in many places of the world. But of course it does not mean they will be out of our plates; as most we eat are farmed, but its quite different than having them at their natural habitat.
People do not value so much what they have near by, except if their survival depends directly on a certain resource. Maybe thats why the massive disappearance of the oysters mostly during the 60’s in Tagus estuary, bathing Lisbon (Portugal) seemed not to be such a dramatic event, despite the enormous breakdown in the profitable exportation business provided by the oysters. A business which was owned by the State, operating at a large oyster cleansing station also owned by the State, now transformed in a event venue center, private-owned, after some years of sad abandonment. The very same State that allowed domestic and heavy industrial pollution to impact dramatically the estuarine waters of the Tagus for so many decades.
The oyster collectors, people of rural communities living by the margins of the estuary since Pre-history, did not feel after all the impact, as they also were shifting their way of life – so to say their real “habitat” – to new jobs in the industrial factories implanted in the region. Nobody seemed to loose, except the environment and the oysters. The concept of biodiversity and ecosystem services was unknown at the time.
While putting the oysters back on the map again may not seem a priority, at least one could calculate how much it would be worth having them back as well as the biodiversity and ecosystem services they provide. In the case of Tagus, the new waste water treatment plants – still under construction – give us some hope that in near future the oysters can be back on service.
Read more at Nature Conservancy‘s website.
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Note: this article was last updated in February 16th, 2011
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