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First-Ever Global Report On Shellfish Finds 85 Percent Of World's Oyster Reefs Have Vanished News Service
May 21, 2009 17:01 EST

A new report by The Nature Conservancy finds that 85 percent of oyster reefs have been lost worldwide. © Stephen Anderson/TNC

ARLINGTON, Virginia -- The Nature Conservancy has released the first-ever comprehensive global report on the state of shellfish at the International Marine Conservation Congress in Washington, DC. The report, which finds that 85 percent of oyster reefs have been lost worldwide, concludes that oyster reefs are the most severely impacted marine habitat on the planet.

“We’re seeing an unprecedented and alarming decline in the condition of oyster reefs, a critically important habitat in the world’s bays and estuaries,” said Mike Beck, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of the report. “However, realistic and cost-effective solutions within conservation and coastal restoration programs, along with policy and reef management improvements, provide hope for the survival of shellfish.”

The report, written by scientists across five continents, from conservation organizations as well as academic and research institutions, focuses primarily on the distribution and condition of native oyster reefs.

Besides being a culinary favorite and a long-standing staple in seafood restaurants around the globe, oysters provide benefits to humans in less obvious ways. For example, they act as natural water filters and improve water quality, provide food and habitat for fish, crabs and birds, and serve as natural coastal buffers that help to protect shorelines and keep coastal marshes intact, an important factor in protecting communities against increased storm surges and sea-level rise expected with climate change.

Yet the report’s analysis found that oysters are in trouble: