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  • Oysters might be able to protect us from rising seas

    Pacific Standard - 05/01/2014

    Those shucked oysters that slid down your throat the other night could have helped keep a flood at bay.

    There are scores of great things about oysters, aside from how they taste doused with hot sauce. Oyster colonies provide habitat for wildlife, filter muck out of waterways, stabilize and raise shorelines, and they can bear the brunt of storm surges, helping to spare lowlands from flooding.

    What’s not so great is the effect of humanity’s hankering for the meaty morsels inside the reef-forming shells. Scientists previously concluded that 85 percent of the oyster reefs that once dominated the bays and estuaries of the world have disappeared. Over-harvesting is the main problem, though shoreline development and pollution also contribute.

    Oysters relish life in the intertidal range—the portions of shoreline that are exposed during low tides and inundated when tides are high. With sea levels on the rise, there are concerns about whether oyster reefs will keep up with the changing water levels.

    The good news out of a study published this week in Nature Climate Change is that oyster reefs can grow almost as fast as acid levels in the gut following a seafood feast. The findings suggest that oyster-reef restoration projects could be powerful tools for reducing flooding as global warming pushes waves ever closer to our doorsteps—though challenges in growing them along shorelines remain to be solved.

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