A new, wide-ranging survey that compares the past and present condition of oyster reefs around the globe finds that more than 90 percent of former reefs have been lost in most of the “bays” and ecoregions where the prized molluscs were formerly abundant. In many places, such as the Wadden Sea in Europe and Narragansett Bay, oysters are rated “functionally extinct,” with fewer than 1 percent of former reefs persisting. T
he declines are in most cases a result of over-harvesting of wild populations and disease, often exacerbated by the introduction of non-native species.
Oysters have fueled coastal economies for centuries, and were once astoundingly abundant in favored areas. The new survey is published in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. It was conducted by an international team led by Michael W. Beck of The Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Beck’s team examined oyster reefs across 144 bays and 44 ecoregions. It also studied historical records as well as national catch statistics. The survey suggests that about 85 percent of reefs worldwide have now been lost. The BioScience authors rate the condition of oysters as “poor” overall.