Climate Change, Conservation, Environmental Hazards

Warmer Oceans Good For Oysters, If They Survive That Long

Oysters may do well in warmer waters, if they survive that long.
An oyster farm. Photo: Shutterstock

Oysters will probably do pretty well in warming oceans, but that assumes that they survive long enough to live in those warmer oceans. In California the Olympia oyster, once an iconic part of Californians’ diets, is no longer harvested. Pacific oysters from Asia are the kind you find in restaurants now, which are largely grown on farms.

But recent research from UC Davis indicates that Olympia oysters are in trouble nonetheless. Two species of invasive snails, known as oyster drills, have been introduced from the East Coast and from Asia. The Olympia oyster, even with its hard shell, has no defense against oyster drills, which dig holes in the oysters’ shells and eats them alive. Thankfully, oyster drills are easy to identify and remove, which makes them a prime target for eradication.

If the population of oyster drills in California waters can be reduced, the Olympia oysters will probably be okay. While oysters are more able to cope with extreme temperatures and low salinity—which might occur during floods—the warming over the next few decades will benefit the oyster drills and increase their predation on the oysters.

Oysters may not seem all that important, but the shells of Olympia oysters provide shelter for other sea creatures. Thus, they are an important part of the ecosystems in which they live. They might also help to prevent erosion, which could help slow the effects of rising sea levels. If the oysters die out, the rest of the ecosystem will suffer, so there’s quite a lot riding on oysters surviving.

This research can help us to manage native wild oyster populations. It can also be helpful to oyster farmers as well, since they too are harmed by oyster drills’ predation.

However, even if the oysters do survive oyster drill infestations and extreme temperatures, increased acidification and other side effects of global climate change could still cause irreparable harm to the oysters.

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