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Loss of oyster reefs a global problem, but one with solutions

ne management policies. They suggest this link offers "a real, albeit unrealized, opportunity for reef recovery and conservation."

They further note that the few oyster reefs that have been protected, such as the "sanctuary reefs" in Chesapeake Bay, are showing signs of success. "These examples," write the authors, "indicate that protected areas are useful tools for oyster reef conservation and should be expanded."

Their other suggestions for improved oyster management include:

  • The prohibition of harvests where oyster populations constitute less than 10% of their prior abundances, unless it can be shown that dredging and other harvest methods do not substantially limit reef recovery.
  • New thinking and approaches to ensure that oyster reefs are managed not only for fisheries production but also as fundamental ecological components of bays and coasts that provide invaluable ecosystem services.
  • Steps to ensure that harvests, particularly those carried out by dredging, do not damage the remaining reefs.
  • Regular monitoring of reef conditions.

The researchers say their results also provide a useful yardstick for identifying reasonable goals for restoration and recovery, thus enhancing the chances for successful conservation and management.

They suggest, for instance, that restoration and recovery goals should require raising reef abundance and health to at least 10% of historical levels. That would equal a shift from "poor" to "fair" in the researcher's ranking scheme, which categorized the health of oyster reefs as "good" (less than 50% lost), "fair" (50% to 89% lost), "poor" (90% to 99% lost), and "functionally extinct" (more than 99% lost). They calculated the "percentage lost" by comparing current and historical oyster populations, with the historic records gathered anywhere from 20 to 130 years ago.

The researchers placed Chesapeake Bay in the "poor" category, with harvests continuing at ap

Contact: David Malmquist
Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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