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STUDY: Oysters might be able to protect us from rising seas

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    Lucas Casaletto
    Digital Writing Intern

    Sunday, May 4, 2014, 8:08 PM -

    For a simple bivalve, the oyster has played an unusual role in human history. It's celebrated as a food source, as a reputed aphrodisiac, and now as a possible savior of coastal cities threatened by flooding. 

    According to a study published this week in Nature Climate Change, Oyster reefs have declined 85 per cent globally over the past 100 years mainly due to over harvesting, however, pollution and shoreline development have also played a part.

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    Because oysters reside in intertidal areas (the portions of shoreline that are exposed during low tides and inundated when tides are high) scientists are unsure whether or not they would be able to adapt to increases in sea level. 

    The good news for the delectable bivalves is that oyster reefs flourish incredibly quickly. According to Nature Climate Change, oyster-reef restoration projects could reduce flooding as global warming heightens seas. 

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    "We could construct intertidal reefs near shorelines that provide fish habitat, clean the water, keep up with sea-level rise, and protect the shoreline by buffering erosion and promoting sedimentation," Antonio Rodriguez, a University of North Carolina associate professor who was involved with the study, told the Pacific Standard.

    Not only would the oyster beds protect the city’s shorelines, they would also filter the water by removing pollutants. One oyster is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water per day, removing pollutants such as nitrogen and algae, according to Atlantic Cities. 

    Landscape architect and Columbia University professor Kate Orff has proposed “oyster-tecture” as a way of protecting New York harbor, Atlantic Cities reports. 

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    Orff emphasizes that the proposal is more practical than it might seem. 

    “This is not some billion-dollar thing that comes down from Mars,” she told Atlantic Cities. “The technology is rocks and oysters and mussels — all things that exist.” 

    The proposal, however, still comes with its challenges. Authors say they need to find out where and how to grow the reefs around estuary shorelines to help the development process.

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