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Unlocking the Mysteries of Oyster Restoration

Oysters, a type of mollusk, are animals that have a soft body surrounded by two calcareous shells that live in coastal waters. Some, but not all, oyster species also form dense clusters that are typically referred to as oyster reefs.

Historically, oysters in North America have served many purposes for the inhabitants of coastal areas. Aboriginal North American Indians found oysters to be an abundant and reliable source of food and they also used the shells as tools, weapons, ornaments, and even currency. Today, oyster harvest and cultivation provide significant economic value to regional coastal communities.

In addition, oyster reefs provide habitat for other species, including some commercially important species, and filter the water and increase water clarity by extracting organic and inorganic particles from the water column. In turn, this increase in water clarity promotes the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation, which also provides habitat for other organisms.

However, the loss of oyster reefs in the United States during the past 200 years has been significant. Due to over-harvesting, increased sedimentation, pollution, invasive species, and disease the amount of oyster harvest has decreased dramatically—reducing income and jobs for workers in the oyster industry. But just as important, the loss has removed habitat for other animals and plants and decreased water quality in estuaries and coastal waters.

The NOAA Restoration Center is working to involve citizens and scientists in projects to restore this valuable resource and to understand more about the ecology of oysters, oyster reefs, and their functions in coastal waters.

To learn more about oysters and restoration techniques, visit the links below: