Behold the tiny oyster.
No, not on the half-shell, with a squirt of lemon, but in its watery habitat, the Choptank River. Out there on a reef with many other oysters, the bivalve is awesome, a janitor that helps remove pollution with incredible efficiency.
A reef seeded with oysters by the state of Maryland - about 130 oysters per square meter - removed 20 times as much nitrogen pollution from stuff such as home lawn and farm fertilizer in one year as a nearby site that had not been seeded, according to a recently released study.
The upshot, said Lisa Kellogg, a researcher for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led the four-year study, is that oyster reefs could potentially remove nearly half of nitrogen pollution from that one river on Maryland's Eastern Shore "if you took all the areas suitable for restoration and restored them." A wider restoration could help clean the Chesapeake Bay, where the Choptank and other major rivers drain.
It is a huge deal, Kellogg said. Man-made nitrogen pollution is part of a one-two punch that creates oxygen-depleted dead zones that have bedeviled the bay. At one time, when oyster reefs were so mountainous and plentiful that European explorers complained about navigating around them, the Chesapeake was crystal clear.
Oyster reefs are more than just the rocks of ages. They are the ultimate mixed-use development, inhabited by more than 24,500 marine animals that are not oysters - mussels, clams and sea squirts, to name a few - that also filter nitrogen.
Excessive harvesting of oysters, combined with massive farm and urban pollution, depleted the bivalves, denuded reefs and clouded the water by the 1980s. About that time, two diseases, Dermo and MSX, came out of nowhere to decimate the stock of oysters in Maryland and Virginia.
Oysters in those two states are experiencing a modest recovery because of the restoration and farming known as aquaculture.
In Virginia, 236,200 bushels of oysters were harvested two years ago, up from 79,600 bushels in 2005. Maryland took in 121,000 bushels in 2011, nearly 95,000 more than 2005.
Kellogg and her fellow researchers wanted to show that oyster reefs could greatly improve water quality and are worth the millions of dollars being invested in their restoration.
They also hoped to build on previous studies that had depended on simulations to estimate nitrogen removal at oyster reefs. Their study, started in 2009, used actual measurements of nitrogen levels.
"There was a huge amount of interest in nitrogen removal," said Jeff Cornwell, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who contributed to the study.
The researchers measured the amount of nitrogen gas production in water channels on a reef near the Emerson C. Harrington Bridge on the Choptank at Cambridge, Md. They did the same at a site where restoration had not occurred.
The study was funded by NRG Energy.
"The rates we've seen in the Choptank for removal is the highest we've seen anywhere," Cornwell said. "The . . . results are so promising. As we develop data sets we can calculate what oysters did when they were a larger population."
Bivalves scarf up phytoplankton that consume nitrogen. Phytoplankton produce algae blooms that die, turn into a sticky black goo and suck oxygen - needed by pretty much every inhabitant of bay tributaries - from the water. Dead zones deplete the bay of life and rob predators such as eagles and osprey of food.
When oysters and other creatures eat phytoplankton, they poop it into dark areas of the reef where microorganisms feed. Those organisms convert the nitrogen to nitrogen gas that wafts into the atmosphere, Kellogg said.
"The good news about oysters is if we do it right and give them a chance . . . they produce huge numbers of eggs each year," she said. "It's a prolific species that can provide this habitat again, to the extent that we allow it."
That message hasn't fallen on deaf ears. This month, Virginia plans to embark on its largest state-funded oyster replenishment in history, focusing on sites in the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers and in the Chesapeake in Pocomoke and Tangier sounds, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
The state has already created huge sanctuaries in public waters where watermen are restricted to harvesting oysters on a rotating basis about every two years. In March, the Virginia Marine Police hit 10 people with 115 charges related to oyster violations.
Maryland has been even more aggressive about restoring oyster habitat, pouring $50 million into oyster recovery over the past 16 years. Oyster harvesting is forbidden by the state on a quarter of the bars where they grow; violations can draw fines of up to $25,000 and as many as 15 years in prison.
For years, Maryland scientists at the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge have put oysters in the mood to mate, bathing them in warm water tanks. When the vibe is right, the males spew sperm, the females spread eggs and, soon, larvae develop.
The larvae live on a steady diet of algae until they develop into spat - like teenagers ready to move on to shells of their own. Millions are taken by boat onto the Choptank and Harris Creek and dropped onto reefs.
Cornwell and Kellogg hope their work will encourage states to fulfill a mission to create 98 acres of reef a year - even though the diseases that kill the bivalves continue to be a threat.
"You have to leave them out, have them develop a resistance and have a self-sustaining population," he said. "There has to be a jump-start to have the oysters come back in a more natural way."
Cornwell paused for a few seconds, thinking about the risk. "If they're all dead soon, you have to evaluate the value," he said.
Behold the tiny oyster.
Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports
Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.
Crazy spring weather brings frantic pleas
It was a bright and sunny Saturday morning. Tulips were blooming, squirrels were all a’skitter, my allergy-prone nose was running ninety-to-nothing, and workmen were in my yard leaning on rakes at $18 an hour. You might know I’d be anxious to remedy that! They were waiting to get started on spreading 60 bags of mulch, which I was belatedly on my way to reserve and pre-pay so they could pick it up and get started. Rush ... rush ... rush, and oh my aching back.
Oklahoma History Center new home for Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame
The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame has a new home at the Oklahoma History Center. Created in 1999, the hall of fame, operated by the Oklahoma Military Heritage Foundation, has been housed the past several years at Oklahoma Christian University but there was no available space to display photographs and information on the inductees.
Local children win Edmond Sun Easter coloring contest
Two local children were named winners of The Edmond Sun’s Easter coloring contest. At left, Madsion Porter, 4, daughter of Tracy Porter, won a princess Easter basket, which included a tiara, tea set, stuffed bunny rabbit and chocolate rabbit. At right, BriAnna Harbaugh, 9, daughter of Leslie Haubaugh, won a Hello Kitty Easter basket, containing art supplies, a Hello Kitty stuffed animal and a chocolate bunny. The families also received a three-month subscription to The Edmond Sun. For your own subscription to The Edmond Sun, visit edmondsun.com, call 341-2121, or visit 123 S. Broadway.
Annual Turkish art and food festival set for April 26-27
Raindrop Foundation is a nonprofit cultural organization that seeks to promote friendship and understanding through shared understanding and community experiences. This free event is set for 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 26 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 27 at 4444 N. Classen Blvd., Oklahoma City.
This year Raindrop Foundation will bring cultural entertainment and education to Oklahoma City area by presenting the Annual Turkish Art and Food Festival. The festival will feature Turkish folk dances, traditional music, water marbling art, whirling dervishes, calligraphy, traditional art of felting, China pieces as well as original arts and crafts for sale to the public.
Health seminar focuses on Oklakhoma’s high suicide rate
OU Outreach and Norman Regional Health System are offering a new health seminar titled “Circle of Care Methodology: Risk Assessment and Prevention of Suicide.” The seminar will be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 24 at the Norman Regional Hospital Education Center. Suicide touches many people’s lives. This seminar focuses on the Circle of Care Methodology, which engages a holistic and mitigating approach to the issues and care that is required to address suicidal ideations, attempts, completions and the aftermath.
The cost is $45 per person, and seating is limited. There will be free parking onsite for all seminar attendees. For more information, visit https://pace.ou.edu/en/programs/health-seminars/.
Film documentary explores hunger in America
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma will host a screening of the 2012 documentary, “A Place at the Table,” at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Food Bank Volunteer Center, 3355 S. Purdue, Oklahoma City. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The story documents the struggle of food insecure people in the United States.
Author Joel Berg will be present as a featured guest. Guests also will have the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion about the issue of hunger in our communities. The screening is free, but seating is limited to 275 people. For more information, go online to www.okchurches.org.
Nominations being accepted for Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame
The Oklahoma Military Heritage Foundation is accepting nominations through June 1 for inductees into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame. Oklahoma veterans including Medal of Honor recipients have been being honored by the hall of fame since 1999. A banquet and ceremony honoring those selected this year for the hall of fame will be Nov. 8 at the Tower Hotel, formerly Marriott Hotel, at 3233 Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City.
Nominees can be living or deceased. Nomination forms can be obtained by writing to the Oklahoma Military Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 30658, Edmond, OK, 73003; or on the foundation’s website at www.okmhf.org.
Annual wheelchair basketball tournament set
OU Medicine will present the 6th Annual Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, benefiting the Greater Oklahoma Disabled Sports Association, April 24 at Oklahoma City University. Teams from OU Medicine administration, anesthesiology, neurosurgery, nursing, otolaryngology, surgery and urology, and a team from 180 Medical will compete in 10-minute exhibition basketball games against wheelchair athletes from GODSA. All participants will compete in wheelchairs.
The free event will begin at 5:40 p.m. at OCU’s Freede Wellness Center, 2501 N. Blackwelder Ave. Fundraising activities including a silent auction, baked goods sale and more. Funds will help GODSA athletes purchase sports equipment and travel for national basketball tournaments. For more information, call 271-6900.
The case for separate beds
The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.
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