Want Clean Ocean Water? Too Bad, We Ate Nearly All The Natural Filters

Oysters are ‘functionally extinct,’ which is nearly as ridiculous a phrase as  ‘functional alcoholic.’ In addition to gracing mounds of chipped ice served on bar tops and table tops in restaurants all over the world, fulfilling their iconic role of class, privilege and sexiness, the actual function of the oyster is to clean the water at rates that man has yet to invent a mechanical equivalent to, all without oil. They clean the water making what we fish out of it safer for us to eat, aid in the continuation of the life cycle of all ocean creatures and help maintain coastlines against erosion.

Much on the same level that though I applaud Whole Foods trending towards transparency of their meat/fish purchasing by creating rating systems for their customers and in the case of seafood using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s rating system, it baffles me that if what Whole Foods is actually trending towards is sustainability why they would sell red labeled fish at all. I was equally disheartened (not surprised mine you) that food blogs everywhere continued posting their usual plethora of oyster recipes, how to shuck videos and glistening food porn shots while the news of the oysters’ fate got less mentions in the media than they got today alone as a recipe ingredient.  The study came out in BioScience about a month ago that outlined exactly what ‘functionally extinct’ means. Katie Horner did a great job of summing it up over at Columbia Universities Earth Institute blog. I added the bold print.

Today about 95% of all oysters served in restaurants and sold in markets are farmed, a result of the fact that overfishing has destroyed more than 85% of global oyster reefs. In places that were once famed oyster harvesting spots, only 1% of reefs remain; in fact, five locations in North America contain 75% of remaining global oyster reefs.

Estimates indicate that at the current rate of decline, wild oysters could disappear within decades if nothing is done to remedy the situation. This possibility is so alarming because oysters play a crucial role in the coastal ecosystems they inhabit. Not only do the mollusks filter impurities from the water and support fish populations, but they also prevent coastal erosion: over time, shells of deceased oysters form reefs, which mitigate the erosion of shorelines.

It’s easy enough to close our eyes, shrug and move on, and in fact I had no intention of writing about the oyster plight largely because that reality is so damn depressing that even I, the Queen of Snark, couldn’t find a single shred of humor in it. I changed my mind when I saw this headline: Toxin found in sardines that clogged US marina. and though I linked the article allow me to pull out my favorite bits.

The millions of sardines that were found floating dead in a Southern California marina this week tested positive for a powerful neurotoxin, researchers said Friday. High levels of domoic acid were found in the sardines,

Caron said that he still believes that critically low oxygen levels in the water caused the sardines to suffocate, but it’s possible the toxin may have been one explanation for why they crowded into the marina.

And last but not least:

“There were tons of birds feeding on these fish and it’s conceivable that we’ll see some bird mortality as a result,” Caron said.

The fish died late Monday and carpeted the water’s surface the next morning, stacking up to 2 feet deep in some places.”

So let’s get a visual on what millions of dead sardines look like when they’ve been poisoned by the very environment in which they live.

They are called ecosystems for a reason, and when we through our ignorance willful or not remove entire pieces of them we truly cannot expect any less than the above and that pill is a lot more bitter to swallow than a lovely, creamy, briny, nugget of ocean goodness on the half shell.

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