I’m one of the hardest working animals in the ocean! As an adult, I can filter 25-50 gallons of water a day. Back in the day, the entire Chesapeake Bay could be filtered in just five days before our populations dropped to just 1% of our historic levels. But we’re part of the reason the Chesapeake got its name—it’s an Algonquin Native American word that means “Great Shellfish Bay.”
Because we filter massive amounts of water, we are vulnerable to what ends up in the ocean. Our numbers can drop if there are increased amounts of runoff or coastal erosion (which is when you would want MORE animals filtering the water, am I right?). We also can collect toxins in our bodies, which can be harmful for humans who eat us.
I do so much more than filter water, though. My buddies and I latch onto each other to form big reefs that provide shelter for fish and crabs, and that stabilize muddy estuary bottoms. Also, filtered water provides better conditions for seagrass, a crucial habitat and breeding ground for animals like rockfish and blue crabs, to grow.
Did You Know?
We take on the flavor of the water where we grew up. East Coast oysters tend to be saltier and brinier while West Coast oysters tend to be a little sweeter.
I’m a very popular food item and am a big source of business for growers in the U.S. and abroad. AND we’ve been popular for a long time—ancient piles of shells dating back to 6950 BC were found in New York, representing the oldest traces of human activity found in that region.
Unfortunately, I’m particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification, which occurs when carbon pollution is absorbed by the ocean and the water becomes more acidic. This makes it harder for me to build my shell, which is bad for the environment and bad for business! The good news is that states like Washington, Oregon, California, Maine, Florida and Maryland are taking action to tackle acidification.