(NaturalNews) A study published in BioScience, a journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, says that oyster habitats around the world are rapidly disappearing. At least 85 percent of oyster reefs are now gone, say scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). And they are gone due to over-harvesting and the rise of disease.
"Oyster reefs are at less than ten percent of their prior abundance in most bays (70 percent) and ecoregions (63 percent)," explains the study. "[Oysters] are functionally extinct -- in that they lack any significant ecosystem role and remain at less than one percent of prior abundances in many bays (37 percent) and ecoregions (28 percent) -- particularly in North America, Australia and Europe."
The research team evaluated 144 areas around the world where oysters are prominently found. They found that not only were oyster populations in dire straits, but the reefs where they live are also largely damaged or destroyed. And according to Dr. Michael Beck from UCSC, if something is not done to stop the trend, oysters could become completely extinct within a generation.
Oysters are vital for the health of ecosystems because they scavenge pollution and other contaminants from water. They are also a source of food, and thus employment, for people who live in areas where they thrive. Without oysters, the viability of aquatic ecosystems everywhere will be compromised, and potentially even permanently altered. So researchers are urging an immediate moratorium on oyster harvesting in areas where native populations have dropped to below ten percent of their former levels.
And over-harvesting is not the only problem oysters face. Diseases like the parasite Bonamia, which has killed up to 90 percent of mature oyster populations in certain areas, are also problematic. So figuring out what is causing the rise of such diseases, as well as how to mitigate them, may also help to slow the decline of oyster populations.