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Doubling Down On Oysters

Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:00

 Far be it for us not to comment when a bit of oyster news crosses the transom. An email from the Friends of Georgica Pond announced the results of a trial in which oysters of varying ages were submerged in protective cages for four months this fall and then checked to see how many survived. The results were promising — 80 percent of first-year, juvenile oysters were alive; 90 percent of second-year oysters made it, too.

Why this might matter is that oysters cannot only thrive in brackish water bodies like Georgica Pond, they are prodigious filter feeders with great potential to reduce pollution in their surroundings. The Billion Oyster Project, in New York Harbor and the city’s many rivers and waterways, seeks to harness their cleaning power, constructing man-made reefs for new generations of the hungry shellfish. One great thing about the Billion Oyster Project is its reliance on students from city schools for much of the work. In addition, New York restaurants that serve oysters are to save their shells, which are recycled as raw material for the reefs rather than going to a landfill.

The Friends of Georgica Pond noted that there are oysters in Mecox Bay and in Tisbury Great Pond on Martha’s Vineyard, both with similarities to Georgica. That, and the observations from the recent test, suggest they might be successfully reintroduced. All is not peaches and cream on Martha’s Vineyard, though; occasional algae blooms have shut down the harvests and there have been high bacteria scares as well. And when Great Pond is open, as at Georgica, volunteers have to walk the flats, tossing oysters into the water lest they die.

One challenge is that Georgica is generally opened to the Atlantic Ocean twice each year. Sometimes the gut, or cut, continues to flow for weeks, keeping the pond level low. Any new oyster cultivation would have to be easily relocated to deep water or placed where the oysters would not be exposed too long. So far, the experimenters have been able to keep the cages submerged and hope to keep the oysters alive through the winter.

There are plans for the Georgica group to run another trial this year, and they have spoken with the town trustees, who have been eager to try new methods of improving water quality in the pond. At a December meeting the trustees sounded in favor of learning more, at least over a second growing season, and possibly of authorizing a larger effort to place oysters there. This is a worthwhile project and one that we, too, are eager to see continued.

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