The scientific journal BioScience released a scary finding this week: Oysters may be extinct. This declaration of extinct oysters has many worried. Oysters can be farmed, but wild oyster beds play an important part in their ecosystems.
Oysters extinct in many areas
Oyster reefs, the areas of the ocean where oysters tend to congregate and grow, used to fill many ocean bays. Many areas where oysters used to grow are now practically empty of oysters, leading BioScience to declare that oysters are functionally extinct. Of the remaining oysters, 75 percent are found in just five North American locations. Only the Gulf of Mexico has a healthy oyster population, and many oysters there died when the BP oil spill forced actions that reduced the salinity of the water.
Oysters extinct in the wild
Oysters, like many other sea-based foods, used to be a cheap source of protein. Over-harvesting has led to much of the extinct oyster areas, however, making them much more expensive. That does not, however, mean that demand has gone down. Oysters are extinct in many areas because wild oysters are easy to make money from and have therefore been over-harvested. Oysters are eaten by gulls, starfish, stingrays, crabs and many other ocean-based life forms.
Farmed oysters not extinct
In many areas, wild oysters are facing extinction, but farmed oysters are not. Oyster farming is a relatively ecologically neutral process that does not produce nearly the environmental effects of growing protein-based food sources on land. However, many oyster farms face disease and expensive start-up costs. Oyster farms can also spread disease to wild oyster populations. Aquaculture, however, appears to be the only solution that will allow humans to continue eating oysters without causing even deeper wild oyster extinction.