Think global, act local, eat local. Then think about saving Maine’s ocean one oyster at a time. Next time you order that perfectly shucked oyster consider this: what you’re consuming is a direct link to the ecosystem that sustains it. Oysters are a keystone species. The coastal ecosystem has allowed them to grow, thrive and move from seed to harvest to market through a delicate balance of give and take. As one of the owners of Mere Point Oyster Company I know healthy ocean ecosystems equals healthy shellfish, which translates to a healthy seafood economy and vibrant coastal communities. But now more than ever, the coastal ecosystems health is in peril.

We have been living, fishing, and now farming on the coastal waters for the past three generations, during which we have witnessed drastic changes. Rising ocean water temperatures have lead to increased shellfish predation from invasive species like green crabs. The ocean waters have become more acidic, making it difficult for larval shellfish to live in the local bays and mudflats. Coastal waters are exposed to more and more nutrients from runoff due to upland impervious surfaces most often caused by increased development. Nutrient intrusion has led to increased algal blooms, causing decreases in dissolved oxygen correlating to higher shellfish mortality. There drastic decreases in shellfish populations has led to increased turbidity which impacts the growth of the critical seagrasses that support a rich marine diversity like, finfish, crabs, lobsters, and shellfish.

The coastal ecosystems future sounds pretty bleak. Not so fast… Saving our oceans one oyster at a time? Many of these changes can be mitigated by farming shellfish. A single oyster will filter nearly 50 gallons of seawater a day resulting in decreased turbidity, decreased nitrification, increase in seagrasses, decreases in coastal acidification all the while sequestering carbon and phosphorus in its fast growing shell. The end product a tasty and plump oyster ready to harvested. For every 25,000 oysters harvested, farmers are removing around the same amount of nitrogen produced by one household annually. No really, think about it. Saving the oceans one oyster at a time, not sounding so crazy now.

When is comes to climate change, Maine’s coast is ground zero. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the rest of the worlds oceans. Climate change is impacting local coastal economies to the tune of millions of dollars right now. Climate change is here and we’re well past the time for action. We must take to reduce carbon emissions, increase renewable energy and make our coastline more resilient to extreme weather, and our collective future depends on it. Shellfish hatcheries here in Maine have had to make big investments into new equipment, technology and practices to address coastal and ocean acidification; more intense and frequent storms coupled with sea level rise are eroding more and more of the shoreline each year, eating away at hundreds of acres of precious shellfish habitat; increases in nutrients has led to increased water quality closures.

There is a lot at stake here, whether it’s the food on your dinner plate, the health of our coastal ecosystems or the vibrancy of the coastal small business economy and working waters or even the vitality of a $500 million-dollar aquaculture industry. It’s all in jeopardy as the climate continues to change. Amongst shellfish farmers around Maine and the country and those up and down the supply chain there’s a palpable sense of urgency to act. We joined the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition in 2018 for just this reason. There is no time to waste, we all want our grandkids and their grandkids to say that we were part of the solution, not the problem. For more information on the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition visit http://nature.org/shellfish4climate

There is no easy solution. What we can do can often feel like a small drop in an overwhelming huge ocean, that’s why I ask you to think global, act local, eat local. So how can we all play a role in helping to protect the future of the shellfish we all love to eat, the farmers & harvesters that support them and the coastlines that sustain them? One oyster at a time. Slurp away.

Dan Devereaux is the co-owner of Mere Point Oyster Co.

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