Oil Spill Wildlife Spotlight: Oysters
Served fried, raw, or swimming in a cholesteric, creamy stew, oysters are a sea-foodie’s versatile delight. The Gulf region harvests about 67 percent of the nation’s pearly bivalves, making it the the largest oyster-producing region in the country. Louisiana is the nation’s top-producing state, averaging 12 million pounds of shuck meat a year, with an average dockside value of around $55 million (in 2008, however, it was $38.8 million).
Oysters filter about eight liters of seawater an hour as adults, so whatever is in the water will occur in higher concentrations in their little bivalve bodies. They’re known as “sentinels of the estuary,” says Supan, because problems with water quality will generally first be noticeable in them before other marine organisms. And the chemical dispersants used to break up oil could reduce the spill’s exposure to weathering (and hence loss of PAHs), leading to more dissolved oil (although, with some help from marine microbes, some of that will be naturally biodegraded).
*this article was updated at 10:53 am, 5/18/10