Restaurants Recycle Oyster Shells to Revitalize Ocean Reefs

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Oysters are more than a tasty appetizer. The mollusks are key players in healthy marine environments. The filter-feeders improve water quality, and their beds provide habitat for fish and other underwater critters. Oyster beds also improve life out of the water, preventing coastal erosion and creating a buffer against large waves.

As oysters’ role in maintaining a vibrant coastal ecosystem becomes more clear, environmental groups are trying to bring back devastated oyster populations. In some places, this means getting restaurants to recycle their leftover oyster shells to put back into the ocean instead of sending them to a landfill, according to Fast Company.

This is particularly important along the Gulf Coast, where the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) set up a recycling program in 2016 to collect used oyster shells from local eateries. According to The Nature Conservancy, 67 percent of the U.S. oyster harvest comes from the Gulf of Mexico [PDF]. The Nature Conservancy has been working throughout the Gulf of Mexico to restore oyster populations.

So far, the effort in Alabama, a partnership between the waste collection company Republic Services and the ACF, has collected enough oyster shells to cover 7.2 acres of sea floor. The program is currently funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is free to restaurants, though that may change in the future.

Alabama isn’t the only place oyster shells are becoming a hot commodity. In New York City, the Billion Oyster Project is working to restore oyster populations and reefs in New York Harbor, in part to make Staten Island more resilient to superstorms and flooding. (Hurricane Sandy ravaged the island's east and south shores in 2012.) In New Jersey, the American Littoral Society is seeding local waterways with new oysters in Barnegat Bay in hopes of both restoring the once-vibrant oyster harvesting industry there and cleaning the waterways. Other oyster repopulation projects are ongoing in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. On the West Coast, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund plans to restore 100 acres of native oyster habitats by 2020.

However, oyster habitat restoration isn’t as easy as it sounds. In a 15-year study of Rhode Island’s oyster restoration programs, the oysters had such a high mortality rate that populations began declining immediately when the programs stopped actively re-seeding the beds with new oysters. Another worldwide study found that the median survival rate for oyster bed restoration projects was only 56 percent.

As many current oyster restoration projects are just gaining steam, it may be years before we find out if they can be as effective as natural oyster beds.

[h/t Fast Company]

Being Surrounded By Greenery Can Be Good for Your Heart

iStock.com/Givaga
iStock.com/Givaga

Living in a place with a little greenery is good for your health in more ways than one. Recent research has found that people perceive their health status as significantly better if they live around trees, and for good reason—in addition to helping you chill out, exposure to lots of green vegetation may be good for your cardiovascular health, as Cardiovascular Business reports.

A new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests that living in green areas is correlated with certain biomarkers for cardiovascular health. Scientists analyzed blood and urine samples from 408 people at a cardiology clinic, then compared the results to satellite-derived data on the levels of greenery around those patients’ homes (using 820-foot and half-mile radiuses).

Adjusting for age, sex, race, smoking status, “neighborhood deprivation” and other factors known to be linked heart disease rates, the researchers found that living in a green area was correlated with several markers of a healthy heart. Blood and urine samples from those participants who lived in green neighborhoods showed lower levels of sympathetic activation—the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response, which raises the heart rate and is involved in heart failure. Those participants also had reduced oxidative stress—an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which can cause tissue damage and is linked to chronic disease. And they had higher angiogenic capacity, which refers to the body’s ability to form new blood vessels.

All this suggests that being around trees is somehow linked to having a healthier heart, though these are just biomarkers, not rates of heart disease or major cardiac events. But while scientists have yet to prove directly that being around trees causes your heart to be healthier, it’s not the first study to suggest a link. In 2015, a study of American women found that rates of heart disease went up in certain areas after a beetle invasion killed off a significant number of trees. Other studies have suggested that being around trees can reduce stress, which in itself may affect your risk of heart disease. Luckily, whether it qualifies as heart medicine or not, spending more time hanging out under trees couldn’t hurt.

[h/t Cardiovascular Business]

Survey Finds Microplastics in the Guts of All Seven Sea Turtle Species

iStock.com/RainervonBrandis
iStock.com/RainervonBrandis

Plastic is all around us—in our landfills, in our oceans, and even in the bellies of some of Earth's most vulnerable creatures. For a new paper in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers checked the guts of 102 deceased sea turtles, some of which belong to critically endangered species, and found that all of them tested positive for microplastics.

For the study, UK-based researchers from the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and Greenpeace Research Laboratories studied turtles that had died after being stranded or accidentally caught by commercial fishing operations. All seven marine turtle species were tested, including the endangered green turtle and the critically endangered hawksbill and Kemp's ridley turtles.

The specimens were found off the coasts of North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean, northern Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, and Queensland, Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Necropsies revealed plastic particles under 5mm in length, while microplastic fibers were one of the most common contaminants detected in their guts. These can come from a variety of sources, including clothing, tires, cigarette filters, ropes, and fishing nets. More than 800 synthetic particles were found in the turtles. Only one section of the gut was tested in each animal, so the actual number is likely 20 times higher, according to a University of Exeter statement.

A 2015 study, also in Global Change Biology, estimated that 52 percent of all sea turtles may have ingested microplastics.

"From our work over the years, we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at, from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, dolphins, and now turtles," Dr. Penelope Lindeque, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said in the statement. "This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas and maintain clean, healthy, and productive oceans for future generations."

The consequences of ingesting microplastics—via contaminated water or by eating other fish or plants—isn't currently known. The particles are small enough to pass through the gut without causing any blockages, unlike larger plastics which can—and do—wreak havoc on marine life. While the authors concluded that microplastics, at their current levels, post less of a threat than fisheries bycatch and entanglements in fishing gear, they said further studies should be conducted to determine the actual risks.

"They may possibly carry contaminants, bacteria, or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at a cellular or subcellular level," lead author Dr. Emily Duncan of the University of Exeter said. "This requires further investigation."

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