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Preserving Water Sources

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Manhatten Oysters
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Manhatten Oysters

Oysters build their reefs--such as this one on the South Carolina coast--using a specialized cement, one that differs in composition from their shells, as well as from other marine organism adhesives. Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation; photos by Jonathan Wilker, Purdue University

It's A Bird! It's A Plane! No, It's....An Oyster?

Big problems require big solutions, but sometimes big solutions are made up of a lot of little things. Take the waters around Manhattan Island, for example. Even if you don't live in New York City or even the East Coast of the United States, you probably have heard something about the legendary pollution of the East River or the Hudson River. Stand-up comics have talked about "walking on the Hudson" and there are stories of kids cliff-jumping into the Hudson River, where the crucial skill was the ability to judge river flow so you didn't land on a patch of raw sewage! In fairness, the rivers are far cleaner than they once were, but they are also a far cry from the marvelous ecosystem which existed several hundred years ago. So, how do you deal with a problem like this? How do you clean a river? Well, some folks think you do it by learning lessons from the past and by getting a little help from some bivalve friends.

And in case you think oyster reefs are all about water quality, they're not. As a matter of fact, Hurricane Sandy had some folks wistfully remembering the oysters of yesteryear. An Oyster In A Storm

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. How common was the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) in New York harbor at one time? What is the state of the current population? What were some of the causes of this change?
  2. How do bivalves improve water quality? What effect does this have on the individual bivalve? How does this affect the use of bivalves as human food?
  3. Do you think that given the present day reality of limited financial resources for environmental restoration that key target species should be identified for support? Why or why not?
  4. How do oysters affect their ecosystem? Do you think this situation makes oysters more or less valuable as a target species for restoration?
  5. How do oysters work as storm surge protectors? Are you surprised by this relationship? Why or why not?
  6. List all of the pros and cons of using oyster reefs as surge protectors you can think of. Given the trade-offs, do you think oyster reefs should be pursued as surge protectors? Do you think they may be good in some areas but not others? Why or why not?

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