Project Main Details
Oysters are mollusks, specifically bivalves.
When you open an oyster the fleshy part that covers the soft tissue is the mantle.
The round circle that you cut when you open the oyster is the adductor muscle that pulls the asymmetrical valves, or shells, closed.
The gills are the thin whitish area.
A simple heart is in the center of the body. It moves fluid through the body cavity so that gases, food and waste reach the appropriate places.
The digestive system is below the heart and the mouth is at the Â“bottomÂ” of the animal near the hinge.
Tiny plants called phytoplankton and even bacteria get trapped in a sticky mucus. This Â“algae saladÂ” is then moved to the mouth by a microscopic Â“conveyer beltÂ” of cilia.
After passing through the digestive tract the undigested material is excreted.
Sometimes there is an oyster pea crab present that lives in the oyster and depends on it for both protection and food.
Barnacles often attach to oyster shells and grow and they are soon joined by other attached marine life such as scorched mussels.
Many species of marine worms, such as the green oyster worm, find refuge in the spaces between the individual oysters.
The oysterÂ’s lifecycle starts when eggs and sperm are released into the water in the spring and fall. The fertilized eggs become tiny swimming larvae that soon develop mouths and feed on phytoplankton.
After 21 days these larvae attach to a hard surface such as old shells and begin to transform into what we know as an oyster. Once attached, an oyster cannot move again.
In sections of a tidal creek where the current is too strong they canÂ’t hold onto a hard surface and are swept away. In sections of the tidal creek that are too calm, the larvae are buried by pfluff mud that settles on top of them.
Oyster larvae are most likely to settle in places where current eddies are created, such as the junctions of tidal creeks. They are attracted to all sorts of hard substrates including man-made structures.
In South Carolina, oysters only grow in the intertidal zone where they are exposed to air during each low tide.
This is because when oysters settle in deeper waters a native boring sponge attacks and eats them. This sponge only lives in high salinity waters, so is absent from regions with brackish waters such as the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.
While feeding, an individual oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day! The collective action of millions of oysters can clean enormous amounts of water. When oysters start to disappear from polluted estuaries it makes it even more difficult for them to recover.
Pollution comes in many forms. Care must be taken not to over-apply fertilizers; otherwise the excess is carried by runoff into local waters causing them to become hypoxic, a condition where there is so little oxygen in the water that only microscopic organisms and jellyfish can survive.
If harmful bacteria from leaking septic tanks leach into the marsh, oysters filter these bacteria out of the water and concentrate them in their tissues. This is why oyster beds are closed to harvesting when bacteria counts in the water exceed pre-determined health standards.
If insecticides from farms, lawns and termite control efforts reach the marsh they are highly toxic to oyster larvae killing them when water concentrations of the pesticide are only a few parts per billion.
Parking lots can be sources of oil and heavy metals, specifically zinc from tires and arsenic from brake pads, all of which are also highly toxic to oyster larvae.
Vegetative buffers along the marsh edge can help reduce this problem, unless stormwater drains bypass the marsh edge buffer.
Clean water and oysters make a significant contribution to the economy of the region.
Oyster harvesting has long been an important industry locally and new techniques of oyster farming have the potential to grow the fishery exponentially as long as Port Royal Sound and its tributaries keep their clean water.
Fortunately, the Port Royal Sound still has many healthy oyster beds, but we will keep them only if we are good stewards of the land that surrounds their waters.
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