The Science of Oysters
Why are oysters so important to the ecosystem?
Oysters serve as the kidneys of the Chesapeake Bay by filtering silt, sediment and nitrates out of the water. This “keystone species” not only filters our Bay’s dirty waters, but oyster reefs also provide three-dimensional, hard substrate for other important marine life, which also filter the Bay’s waters. Small fish like gobies, blennies and toadfish use oyster reefs as their primary habitat, which attract larger fish. The C. Virginia oyster, the Bay’s native oyster, can be found from Canada to Brazil.
Oysters reproduce by releasing both sperm and eggs into the water column, producing larvae. Larvae are carried by the Bay’s currents for several weeks, before they settle onto the bottom of the Bay and attach, or “set,” onto hard substrate. A single female oyster can release a hundred million eggs in a year, but without suitable, silt-free substrate — preferably an oyster shell on which to set — oyster larvae die. The survival of a natural spat set is a fraction of 1 percent.
What nutritional value do oysters have?
Oysters are a healthy food source low in cholesterol and sodium, containing high levels of zinc, B12 iron, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. Oysters were a primary and cheap source of protein from the colonial times through the Great Depression. The oyster has developed a legend of passion as oysters have always been linked with love. Greek mythology holds that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, sprang forth from the sea on an oyster shell giving birth to Eros. The word “aphrodisiac,” meaning substance that creates sexual desire, is taken from “Aphrodite.” Cassanova, the well-known lover, boasted that he began every meal eating 12 dozen oysters! Oysters are often thought to help us live longer, live stronger and stay younger.