By Student Delegate Caroline Fullam
The intense impacts of climate change on coastal communities include coastal erosion, dying coral reefs (which protect communities from storm surges), and dwindling fish populations that hurt the fishing industry. One nature-based solution has helped address these impacts across the globe: oysters.
Oysters are referred to as “ecosystem engineers” because they attach to hard surfaces and other oysters to form oyster reefs. These reefs help to develop and sustain a healthy
ecosystem by filtering water, providing a source of seafood; acting as a nursery for blue crabs, shrimp, bass, trout, flounder, and more; and helping protect the marine and land environment from storms.
In Bangladesh, a study was done comparing three breakwater oyster reefs to control areas near Kutubdia Island. The oyster reefs enhanced the adaptation capacities of shorelines by dissipating wave energy, reducing erosion rates, and increasing sediment deposition. Significantly, the reefs also slowed salt marsh retreat during the monsoon season and then quickened saltmarsh seaward expansion in the winter. The study’s findings show how oyster reefs reduce the impacts of storms on coastal communities as well as stabilize salt marshes, an important carbon sink.
New York, through the Billion Oyster Project, has restored 75 million oysters back into New York Harbor. The Billion Oyster Project partners with over 100 local schools to teach students about environmental issues and involve them in solutions. Despite the pollution levels and strong currents in New York Harbor, the Billion Oyster Project restored oysters from near extinction in the region. Growing oyster populations improve water quality by filtering out excess nutrients such as nitrogen, which helps to increase water clarity, light penetration, and oxygen levels in the water. These oyster reefs contribute significant ecological benefits, making them valuable even if they cannot be eaten.
Off the coast of Washington state, oysters in ocean farms eat local algae and fishermen have to contribute little to production. Mussel farms in Maine, Long Island, Rhode Island, and California have recognized the regenerative capabilities of farming bi-valve shellfish as well. Oysters and kelp are being integrated into the mussel farms to maximize the restorative impact these farms can have- a sharp contrast to other industrial fishing and aquaculture practices that place fertilizers in water or destroy marine ecosystems. The mussel and oyster farms positively contribute to the marine ecosystem while providing fishermen jobs from a sustainable farm.
The vast ecologic and economic benefits of oysters led the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) to approve a pilot project studying the feasibility of establishing rock-oyster farms in Seychelles. The project, expected to take two years, will ensure oyster farming is a solution that benefits the local community. The effects oyster reefs and farms can have will vary amongst regions. The implementation of more feasibility studies can help to enhance recognition of the solutions oyster reefs and farms pose.
Restoring oyster populations has the potential to expand use of the blue economy and provide jobs, enhance climate adaptation capacities of coastal communities, and create healthier marine ecosystems.
We’ll be supporting Angelique Pouponneau at next week’s side event, “Climate action for shared prosperity through aquatic food systems: Eyes on SIDS and beyond,” which will be held in the Water and Climate Pavilion on Tuesday, November 9, 2021 from 1445-1545 Glasgow time. Hosted by WorldFish, IWMI, and FAO, Angelique will be speaking about innovative financing for climate resilience of aquatic food systems.