Monday, May 5, 2008

Heaven on the half shell

"If you don't love life you can't enjoy an oyster; there is a shock of freshness to it and intimations of the ages of man, some piercing intuition of the sea and all its weeds and breezes. (They) shiver you for a split second.” So says novelist Eleanor Clark, and the marine team here at the Ecology Action Centre tend to agree, whenever we get the chance.

In Atlantic Canada, at the tip of its northern range, the Eastern Oyster (
Crossostrea virginica), has been found in warm, shallow bays and estuaries, along with the coves of the beautiful Bras d'Or Lakes in Cape Breton. As oysters die off, they form an impressive reef that can provide complex habitat for many organisms. As filter feeders, these crusty bivalves can also play a vital role in improving water quality. Unfortunately, many of Nova Scotia's native oyster reefs have disappeared as a result of introduced diseases, pollution, and dredging.

Lucky for sustainable seafood lovers, today there are several oyster farming operations in Atlantic Canada. Low-density farmed oysters have been given a “Best Choice” rating by SeaChoice, Canada's Sustainable Seafood program. Click here to read more about the assessment, and ShanDaph, a remarkable oyster operation in Merigomish, Nova Scotia (pictured left).

Though our crocheted specimen flaunts a pretty pearl button, Crossostrea virginica are not so renowned for their accessories. Many bivalves make pearls to seal off irritants in their shells, but only a few species polish them off with the nacre sheen sought for posh necklaces and earrings.

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